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Body Image in Sports

By Inaayath



Body image is how a person perceives their body. How attractive they look; how aesthetic and sexually attractive they look and feel. It involves comparing yourself to the standards the society dictates.

The dictation of the standards of how your body should look like and how you feel about yourself in decided by the society itself. The society decides what is attractive and what is not.


In ancient Egypt, the perfect woman was said to have a slender figure, with narrow shoulders, and a tall waist.

Ancient Greece focused more on the male figure, but its female ideal was full-figured and plump with fair skin tones.

Han dynasty China emphasized pale skin, narrow waists, and petite female figures.

The Victorian era witnessed a similar movement, but the popularity of the waist-cinching corset led to the desirability of the hourglass figure.

Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder coined the phrase 'body-image' in his book The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (1935).


Distorted body image or negative body image refers to an unrealistic view of how someone sees their body. Like eating disorders, it is seen most in women, but many men also suffer from the disorder.

From early childhood on you begin forming your perceptions of your body’s attractiveness, health, acceptability, and functionality. This body image continues to develop as you age and receive feedback from peers, family member, coaches, etc.

Personality traits such as perfectionism and self-criticism can also influence the development of a negative internalized image of your body.

It can also be pressure from your peers like family, friends and coaches.


  • obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors

  • thinking disparaging comments about your body and frequent comparison of your own shape and size to other people

  • jealous or a friend’s body, or just as commonly: the body of a celebrity or someone else in the media.

  • avoiding food during social events .

  • bad breaths

  • low in energy overall.


Sometimes body image is negatively impacted by one or more significant events. For example, a gymnast who is continually chided by her coach and fellow athletes to lose a little weight may develop a deeply ingrained and long-standing dissatisfaction with her body, no matter how thin she becomes.

If you are concerned about your body image, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is my perception of beauty distorted from years of media exposure that glorifies a very thin ideal that is unrealistic for most people to obtain in a healthy manner and maintain?

Do I find myself regularly criticizing my own appearance and looks?


Body image concerns and eating disorders go hand in hand.

Often, it is the early dissatisfaction with a young person’s appearance that leads them to conclude that losing weight would enhance their appearance and make them feel better about themselves and their bodies.

Thus, eating less and over exercising are often next, frequently leading to patterns of disordered eating and weight obsession that can develop a number of eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder.

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Getting treatment for distorted body image is a critical step to recovery. The problem won’t just go away by itself.

Recognizing and acknowledging your feelings and accompanying body sensations will help you become more comfortable in your body and lessens the tendency to suppress feelings and revert to unhealthy, negative inner diatribes to escape uncomfortable feelings.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an approach where irrational thoughts are recognized, analyzed and restructured to more rational self-talk, is frequently used.

Additionally, dance and movement therapy are often employed to develop a greater trust and appreciation of one’s body based upon creating internal experiences, rather than simply evaluated one’s body aesthetically.



Eating disorder research has consistently found that body dissatisfaction and eating problems among young women are related to family, peer and sports culture that reinforce the thin body ideal.

A survey of college- aged women showed that the social reinforcement of the thon ideal- including teasing and negative comments- from family, friends and media was correlated positively with bulimic symptomology.

Social reinforcement of thinness from family and peers predicted the onset of binge eating and purging among these young women.

The pressure from parents to diet was a significant predicator of dieting status, body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness among girls aged 13- 16 years old.

Weight related teasing and body disparagement in particular can have a significant negative impact on body image and eating behaviour of young girls.

Nevonem and broberg American psychologists reported (2000) reported that many of the patients believed that harassment, teasing and comments rom others about weight or appearance contributed to development of eating disorder.

Disordered eating must be considered seriously as it can be associated with such health risks as amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and clinical eating patterns.

The body part satisfaction scale and having a BMI in the low to healthy range, 50% of the gymnast wanted to be at least 5 pounds lighter. Moreover, 61% of these women exhibited some sort of disordered eating symptomatology as indicated by their scores on the bulimia test- revised.

Many female athletes in aesthetic sports have experienced weight or body- related harassment and disparagement from their coaches.

Interestingly, many coaches make decisions about the need for weight loss in their athletes on the basis of appearance alone.

Among gymnasts, the athletes of interest in the present study, pathogenic weight control behaviour have been found to be responses to social pressure from coaches, judges and peer to reduce body weight.

Social pressure to be thin was a significant predictor of restrained eating and disordered eating symptomology smoung female university gymnasts and that caches and peers can play a significant role in the development of eating disorders.

67% of the female athletes who met the criteria for a clinical eating disorder, based on interview and clinical evaluation, were told to diet by their coach.

Only 10% of these athletes were provide with guidance about weight reduction.

75%of the dieting athletes who did not develop an eating disorder were given guidance about weight reduction.

In the sport of women’s gymnasts, where most elite gymnasts are under the age of 19 years and living in the family home, the role of parents is crucial.

Further, the requirements of elite gymnasts often mean that gymnasts spend more time with their coaches than with their parents, suggesting an influential role for coaches.

Judges may have a unique perspective on the issue of weight control, they observe and interact with them while traveling to competitions , thus potentially providing a more removed perspective.

The overwhelming majority of parents (92%) did not suspect their daughters of having an

eating disorder but 34% of the parents were concerned about their daughter’s eating patterns,

specifically eating too little.

Most parents (81%) believed that coaches managed issues related

to their daughter’s body weight control appropriately.

Fifteen percent of the parents reported that the coach had told their daughter to lose weight and

sixteen percent of the parents reported that the coach had remarked negatively about gymnasts’ bodies



I cannot give you a set of rules and ask you to follow it. These are advices which you need to test and see what works for you ultimately we all are different. The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and the body you naturally have.

  • Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams and goals . Celebrate all the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, sex, etc.

  • Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read it when you wake up and before you go to sleep . Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.

  • Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, pride and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your looks.

  • Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you, the real you — as a whole person.

  • Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are. Most importantly who are true with you.

  • Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.

  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.

  • Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that makes you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message. Take a stand.

  • Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax, gardening , meditation.

  • Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world. It can also find a part of you that you never knew you had.



We have all heard of the struggle’s athletes have fought to reach the tip of the iceberg. Some have gone through drug abuse, toxic relationships.

We have also heard stories and folklore of athletes coming back from insane injuries.

What we never hear are the struggles that’s invisible to the naked eye of the audience but cause more harm to them than any other.

One such struggles in the the female competitive sports world is BODY IMAGE.

In sports, especially in aesthetic and weight category sports having the proper weight is essential for having the competitive advantage and proper mindset.

The difference of an extra pound can be the reason for the greatest loss.

Most female athletes do not know they have a body image problem unless it is too late.

Athletes are highly competitive in nature. They are perfectionists.

The problem lies in the way female athletes’ losses weight. Many of the female athletes and coaches don’t know the right way of losing weight and sticking to that weight categories throughout the years.

Athletes takes up drastic eating habits that can lead to eating disorder like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, Pica, binge eating disorder, Rumination Disorder

One in every three female athletes have an eating disorder.

This struggle is this still fought my elite and amateur athletes in international, college and national levels all around the world.

Many athletes have lost their competition because of their insecurities on weight.

They start self-criticizing themselves of their body image every time they see themselves in the mirror that is where the rabbit hole starts.

From there they start to lose self-confidence, their self esteem and then depression and anxiety kicks in.

This leads to two very important bad scenarios

One being the decline of performance of the stress and anxiety they deal with inside.

And the second thing being the adoption of unhealthy eating habits and over training.

USC Volleyball star Victoria Garrick was one of the first person to talk about her struggle with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder to highlight the pressures elite female athletes face.

She hopes by sharing her story, she can help put an end to the stigma of mental illness and show other female athletes they're not alone.

She also given a ted talk on body image and her life college life on her struggles with depression to the university of Michigan.


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