Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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The Impact of Body Image Issues

As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would recommend reading is:

Howells, K. & Grogan, S. (2012). Body image and the female swimmer: Muscularity but in moderation. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 4(1), 98-116.

Sharing Emily Mallett’s (a fellow RSS graduating student and fellow blogger) interest in this article, I would like to focus my attention onto body image particularly in females and would like to make it clear that I do acknowledge that men suffer from the same issue. The article by Howells and Grogan focuses on female swimmers, ages of 14-18 and 19-56 finding three main themes, age effects on body image, the impact of peer support and an acceptable amount of muscle. It was found that some muscularity was acceptable to the adolescent swimmers as muscle indicated strength, fitness, a toned body and well-being. However these swimmers also felt they did not fit into the thin ideals expected in today’s society and portrayed in the media. Female adults however thrived when they had increased musculature because they were outside the norm of their peers, they were more fit.

Due to the way female athletes are perceived by others, many are conscious of the way they look both on and off of the field. Female athletes are perceived as thin, lean, muscular women with perfect and almost flawless skin via the media, but these images are rarely attained in reality. Females feel pressure to look a certain way because of expectations in society and many times, from their coaches. At times coaches, or a sport in general, will emphasize needing to look a certain way, for example women’s body building. Females need to have the perfect muscle, the perfect size; they need to be spray-tanned, have their hair done, etc. Imagine how it would feel if you were told the body you worked so hard for, was not good enough, the emotional toll is damaging. Once a sport applies pressure to look a certain way rather than to perform a certain way feelings of self-consciousness increase and perceptions of body image become negative.

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Combating Body Image Issues in Athletes

As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would recommend reading is:

Howells, K. & Grogan, S. (2012). Body image and the female swimmer: Muscularity but in moderation. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 4(1), 98-116.

A surprising number of athletes suffer from body image issues.  It is most common in sports that are judged rather than sports that are not.  Sports with the highest rates of body image issues are gymnastics, swimming, and dance.  The reason for higher risk of eating disorders with judged sports is because there is a higher value on the aesthetics than the skills.  Synchronized swimmers are told that they all need to look the same; the same size muscles, the same skin color, etc.  The article I chose to do my critical review was about body image and female swimmers and how they view their muscles on and off the pool deck.

The article looked at two focus groups of female swimmers, one group was between the ages of 14-18 and the other was 19-56.  Howells and Grogan, the authors, discovered three main findings; the impact of swimming on the body: muscularity but in moderation, body confidence as transient: age matters, and influence of others.  For the first finding perceptions of increased muscularity were different between the age groups.  Although some muscularity was acceptable to the adolescent swimmers as muscle indicated strength, fitness, a toned body and well-being, some conflict occurred; the girls were aware that muscle was contrary to the thin ideal that their social selves aspired to.  By adulthood, muscle was welcomed as it indicated vitality, youth and health.  The adolescent swimmers reflected that their bodies were contrary to the thin ideal subscribed to, and seemingly achieved by their friends. Consequently, they perceived that they were less attractive and more masculine; this affected their confidence.

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Eating Disorders in Sport and Recreation

There are four types of clinically recognized eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Sport is a competitive and body-focused world that can trigger eating disorders in athletes. Eating disorders can be caused by many different things, but common causes are things such as: pre-occupation with weight, belief that lower body weight will improve performance, low self-esteem, family dysfunction, and pressures to be thin.

There are many warning signs and symptoms that can make eating disorders visible. Things such as: chronic injuries, rigidity around food and exercise, training beyond prescribed routine, and training when injured could all be warning signs of an eating disorder in an athlete.

Eating disorders affect the body as a whole. The physiological damage is said to be the worst part of the illness. The physical effects on the body are: electrolyte imbalances, cardiac arrhythmia, low blood pressure, heart failure, osteoporosis, muscle loss, severe dehydration, fainting and fatigue, and dry hair and skin.

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