When Body Image Becomes a Problem for Female Athletes

When Physique Picture Turns into a Downside for Feminine Athletes

By Christine Yu

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 19, 2022

There’s no denying that there are a lot of advantages to sports activities moreover bodily well being. For women and girls, sports activities could be empowering. They’ll construct confidence, social connections, and management abilities.

However the sporting setting may place distinctive stress on athletes, and that stress can result in physique picture points, particularly for feminine athletes. However physique picture hasn’t at all times been a subject of dialog in sports activities. “There’s an amazing quantity of disgrace, stigma, and secrecy,” says registered dietitian Paula Quatromoni, DSc. She’s an affiliate professor of diet and epidemiology at Boston College.

Not too long ago, extra feminine athletes have shared their struggles with physique picture, together with Olympic determine skater Gracie Gold, skilled runner Allie Ostrander, and present and former soccer (soccer) gamers in the UK. They’ve described how a destructive physique picture has affected their psychological well being and efficiency. They need extra individuals to know that the stress to look a sure approach may cause hurt.

Physique Picture Pressures in Sports activities

Physique picture refers to the way you image your self – your physique form, dimension, or weight – and the way you’re feeling about your physique. What’s thought-about a “fascinating” physique is usually influenced by pictures within the media and society’s magnificence requirements. Whereas physique picture points can occur to anybody, girls and ladies are usually extra dissatisfied with their physique, in comparison with males.

For feminine athletes, sports activities can elevate physique picture considerations. Athletes are judged based mostly on what their our bodies can do: Did they win or lose? Shave fractions of a second off their time? Enhance their rating sufficient to edge out the competitors? Set a brand new file? Nonetheless, many ladies – together with athletes – really feel stress to look a sure approach. And infrequently, mainstream tradition has pressured girls to evolve to a sure dimension on the expense of their energy.

That is began to vary. For athletes of all genders, prioritizing coaching, diet, energy, and restoration are all important to their athletic efficiency. However unattainable physique objectives are nonetheless a supply of stress for some individuals. For instance, in a survey of feminine school athletes, 68% stated they felt stress to be fairly and 30% stated they had been afraid of changing into too muscular.

It’s not shocking then that athletes can develop into overly targeted on their look. Virtually 80% of elite sportswomen stated they had been aware of their physique picture.

“Athletes are below super stress to carry out,” Quatromoni says. “It’s very straightforward to establish the physique as a spot to mould, form, and alter to get a aggressive edge.”

It’s possible you’ll examine your self to different athletes you see on social media or to skilled athletes. In consequence, it’s straightforward to imagine that you simply want a sure physique kind to succeed.

Whereas a physique’s make-up performs a job in efficiency, it’s not the one issue. But in endurance sports activities, many athletes and coaches imagine {that a} skinny, lean physique will make you a quicker runner, swimmer, or bike owner. This perception has been handed down from one era to the following. Athletes might attempt to change their our bodies to be leaner as a result of they assume it can result in higher efficiency.

For athletes in sports activities like gymnastics and determine skating – and extremely athletic arts resembling dance – persons are typically judged on how they give the impression of being along with their abilities. “It’s your aesthetic, your costume, the way you interpret the music, and your physique is a part of that,” Quatromoni says. Plus, athletes typically put on clothes that exposes a lot of the physique – which might depart it open to public commentary, particularly on social media.

Even when a coach or teammate notices that somebody has a destructive physique picture, they might not say something. “They do not wish to rock the boat. They do not wish to upset the athlete,” Quatromoni says, particularly if the athlete is performing nicely. That dynamic creates a tradition of silence.

What Are the Dangers of a Unfavorable Physique Picture?

In case you’re not pleased with how your physique seems, it may be a slippery slope.

“Athletes will do no matter they’ll in the event that they imagine it’s going to make them a greater athlete,” Quatromoni says. It’s possible you’ll change your weight loss program or train habits, and your physique might not get all of the energy it wants. “In case you’re coaching on empty with no gasoline in your tank, you’re fatigued. You’re not recovering. You’re extra more likely to get injured,” she says.

Athletes who don’t eat sufficient are in danger for the feminine athlete triad and relative power deficiency in sport (RED-S), circumstances that may result in poor bone well being, absent and irregular menstrual cycles, and well being considerations like larger ldl cholesterol. For instance, research present that feminine athletes’ danger for bone stress accidents is 4.5 instances larger in the event that they don’t eat sufficient. And people who missed their durations additionally skipped extra days of coaching.

Kara Bazzi, co-founder and medical director of Opal: Meals and Physique Knowledge, an consuming dysfunction remedy clinic, says for those who’re preoccupied by physique picture considerations, it could possibly have an effect on your psychological well being. In response to the Nationwide Consuming Issues Affiliation, individuals who have a destructive physique picture usually tend to have low vanity and despair.

You might also be extra more likely to have disordered consuming habits or an consuming dysfunction like anorexia or bulimia. Practically half of feminine athletes – 45% – notably in sports activities the place a lean physique is taken into account necessary, have disordered consuming or an consuming dysfunction. And consuming problems have the second highest mortality charge of psychological diseases.

What You Can Do

In case you are scuffling with physique picture considerations, Bazzi says one of many first steps is to concentrate to them. She says it’s necessary to acknowledge that it’s not your fault. As an alternative, you’re surrounded by a society and tradition that overemphasize appearances. “It’s not that, ‘I’m the failure.’ This can be a damaged system,” she says.

Bazzi and Quatromoni say we’d like extra diet schooling and consuming dysfunction prevention packages, particularly in sports activities. These assets can present athletes with instruments to navigate their relationship with their physique and meals.

One step is to note when physique picture considerations crop up. Is it if you scroll by way of social media? If that’s the case, Bazzi suggests you block or unfollow accounts that make you dislike your physique. It might assist to speak to a psychological well being skilled and a registered dietitian too. Look for individuals who have labored with athletes and physique picture points.

Keep in mind, there isn’t only one physique kind that’s profitable in sports activities. Many physique sorts carry out nicely. “Now we have to take a look at the entire particular person in entrance of us to grasp what’s going to assist them maximize their potential,” Quatromoni says.

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