How Body Image Affects Female Athletes

How Body Image Affects Female Athletes

September 21, 2021

How Body Image Affects Female Athletes

*TW: Mention of eating disorders.

Do you feel pressure to be pretty? Are you afraid of becoming too muscular? Have you ever had a coach call you fat?

If so, chances are you’re a female athlete.

In many cases, the parts of our bodies that make us great can ultimately be our biggest insecurities. The unrealistic standards of beauty that society puts on women are generally unattainable for women in more muscular bodies (A.K.A, athletes). Such ‘expectations’ are huge contributors to the development of eating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, and a plethora of mental health challenges in the female athlete community. It’s time we speak facts about the epidemic we as women face every day, and (most importantly) remind each and every one of you that you are not alone.

It’s safe to say that many of us grew up surrounded by homogenous portrayals of the female body, and internalized this societal ideal from a young age. We as athletes put immense pressure on ourselves to measure up in all facets of the game, and the intersection of body image and athletic perfectionism creates a huge challenge. According to the ESPN Confidential Survey of 201 Division 1 Female College Athletes (try saying that five times fast), 68% of athletes feel a pressure to be pretty, 48% wear makeup when they compete, 30% are afraid of becoming ‘too muscular,’ and 20% have had a coach call them fat. Just take a second, and let that sink in.

The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter which sport you play, or at which level. The issue lies in two underlying themes; first, there are body ideals and norms and myths that exist in every sport. The second theme is about the power dynamic between coaches and athletes with regard to sport body ideals. Not to go all “sticks and stones may break my bones” here, but words DO hurt, and there are lasting psychological effects of a coach's criticism on an athlete. When our coaches, who we often look up to and turn to for advice, perpetuate sport body ideals, we listen. And as a result, many female athletes turn to restrictive eating and excessive exercise as a solution. Studies show that more than 40% of women who compete in aesthetic or weight-class sports, such as gymnastics or wrestling, exhibit signs of an eating disorder.

So, how do we begin to shift the narrative? How do we, as women, build each other up as we break down these expectations? While this is a systemic problem, there is always room to create change. Our goal as a community is to inspire the next generation of female athletes, and part of that mission is preaching body positivity to them from the jump. As a brand, our way of contributing to this challenge is creating gear that celebrates and accentuates a female athlete’s naturally muscular, curvier body. When we give women gear that fits their body in spite of sport body ideals, we remind them that they are an absolute beast, and that being built different is cool as f**k.

Appreciate your body, break down the patriarchy, and buy gear that compliments the body you have, not the one others tell you to have.

And to read more about how body image affects the female athlete community, here are a few resources:

Confidential Survey of 201 Division I female college athletes done by ESPN

“I changed my body for my sport. No one should.” NY Times

Why do so many athletes struggle with body image? USA Field Hockey

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