With sports as our national fairy tale, we have come to worship the tiny gymnasts and sequined skaters who appear on the landscape as storybook princesses with their poise and beauty, agility and grace. But the truth behind the making of elite women athletes reveals a grim national trend far less magical than what these images project. All too often behind the pigtails and mascara is a trail of abuse from parents, coaches, and federation officials - the very people charged with protecting these young athletes. Here are the heartbreaking stories of the countless girls who have stumbled along the way, broken by pressure, humiliation, and an outdated cultural ideal of femininity that has shaped both gymnastics and figure skating and driven their young athletes beyond the breaking point. Joan Ryan documents in harrowing and explicit detail the preponderance of eating disorders, weakened bones, stunted growth, debilitating injuries, and damaged psyches that are often the result of intensive training.