By Meggie S.
Due to the way that female athletes are perceived by others, many are conscious of the way they look both on and off of the field, court, or whatever playing surface to which their sport belongs (Ridgers, 2007). There are social pressures for girls to uphold a certain image even in the sport context. Female athletes are being perceived as thin, lean, muscular women with perfect and almost flawless skin. But this isn’t true or possible for many women in multiple sports.
The tricky part with female athletes is they want to come across as if they don’t care what they look like. They want to portray a certain image of effortlessness, when in fact it takes us quite a while to get this look. Many girls that I have played with in my career have taken tremendous effort getting ready for a game or training session. There will always be spectators at a session, and many girls need to have the confidence of looking their best to play at their best. I am guilty of this myself. I cannot play my sport unless my hair is straightened, because it looks better in a ponytail than when it is curly. Many of my teammates in the past liked to have their hair in a “messy bun” which will look effortless, but it will have actually taken them a number of attempts to get the bun looking just right.
I read in an article that boys grow up having the opportunity to have many male athlete role models. There are a variety of looks that these athletes portray. Girls, however, did not get the same opportunity to have many female athletes as role models. The media was also very selective of the female athletes that were promoted. They were also wary of how they promoted these women; they had to look beautiful no matter what their sport was.
If women don’t feel they fit the ideal image of beautiful athletic women, they may choose not to participate in sport. The way we promote female athletes in society does not help women overcome this self-consciousness. It is quite common to hear female athletes complaining about how big their thighs are or how they need to lose weight. If we are talking about sport specific body image issues, many athletes have big thighs due to their powerful quadriceps muscles which they develop through their sport. And even though these athletes may feel they are “too fat” to fit the athletic look, they are, realistically in most cases, the ideal shape and nowhere close to being overweight.
I know many of my friends growing up have stopped playing their sports because of how they felt they looked in shorts or training gear. They did not want to be judged by spectators at an event not fitting the look that is marketed of female athletes.
This principle does not just stop at sports unfortunately. Women are too afraid to go swimming whether it be a pool party or a day at the beach, because of how they feel they look in their swimsuit. I have heard many older women in my life exclaiming that they have to lose ten pounds before they go buy an outfit for some big event coming up.
Women should adopt the mindset of most men. They let on, at least, that they are comfortable with the way they look. In sports participation, it seems that no matter what their shape, nothing will interfere with their level of participation. From my own observation in the senior recreation leagues in Nova Scotia, there are a number of men from every type of fitness level, shape, height, and weight playing together on teams. With the women’s league, however, it is seldom that you see any variety in fitness level or body types on the teams.
In conclusion, I think society needs to be aware of the way girls feel their own body image is a barrier to participation in recreation and sport. With advertisements for female athletes like this going around, who could blame them?
Ridgers, N. D., Fazey, D. M. A., & Fairclough, S. J. (June 01, 2007). Perceptions of athletic competence and fear of negative evaluation during physical education. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 2, 339-349.