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  • Kate Ringwood, LPC

Body Image in Sports

Body image is one’s perception of how their body appears. This may include their weight, height, or shape. Body image can be influenced by diet culture, social norms, and your sport.


Athletes are hit with conflicting body image messages from their sport verse outside of their sport. In many sports, muscle building is important to be competitive. However, this goes against society’s image of thinness and beauty representing femininity. Talk about conflicting messages!


Why Athletes


Athletes tend to have a high attention to detail and high error detection. This often shows in the form of dedication to their sport and motivation towards improving in their athletic performance. This high drive for success can lead to a high drive to change their body when one has negative body image. About 88% of those in DI sports believe they are overweight and report a desire to lose weight. The strong desire to lose weight is dangerous when mixed with a high drive for success. As we know, there are many factors that can influence body image. Below I discuss a few factors specific to sports.


Uniforms


Uniforms are created ultimately for functional purposes. In sports such as volleyball, gymnastics, track, or swimming, tight uniforms were created to help the athlete perform at a higher level. However, revealing uniforms can lead to body dissatisfaction and lead to the athletes being more objectified in the media.


Myths about Body Size and Performance


There are many stereotypes in sports and myths about what body type leads to the best performance. Some of these include having a lean frame allows athletes to run faster or being short and thin leads to better performance in gymnastics. There is a high pressure to fit these stereotypes, especially when being judged on performance, such as in gymnastics and diving.


When misinformation affects the coaches’ perspectives, this can be extremely harmful for the athletes they are coaching. Ultimately, negative body image creates stress and anxiety around performance, which can greatly impact an athlete’s performance, no matter their body shape or size.


Lack of Resources


Despite the number of eating disorders continuing to rise and most athletes struggling with negative body image, there are a lack of resources in athletic departments to have a psychologist or counselor on staff. Over half of coaches in women’s sports are male and many feel uncomfortable speaking to athletes about body image. Misinformation is everywhere and cases continue to come out around the mistreatment of women in high-level sports.


These conflicting messages and misinformation, lead athletes to struggle with body image, inside and outside of their sport. If you are struggling with body image and feel a desire to lose weight to improve at your sport or fit in with societal norms, know that this is not okay. You desire to have a healthy relationship with your body. There are healthy ways to improve at your sport and improve your self-esteem. Check out our blog on how to start recovery or reach out to us at Serendipity Counseling Services for help improving your body image.

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