An athlete’s body contributes so much to their performance and success in sports. As important as their height, weight, and other physical measurements are- so is body image. That is, the mental picture that they have of their body and the way they feel when they look in a mirror.
Yet, we don’t often hear athletes discuss their struggles with body image, or discussing body image in general. Many might think this is because sports can build self-esteem and confidence, however, what’s developed on the court doesn’t always translate beyond it.
According to an NCAA study which assessed body satisfaction, “24.2% of Division I female athletes and 30.7 % of Division III female athletes were either very dissatisfied or mostly dissatisfied with their overall appearance”. Furthermore, the study found that an alarmingly “49.2% (Division I) and 40.4% (Division III) of female athletes were in the subclinical eating disorder range”.
Mary Cain, a standout runner at Stanford, opened up about her struggle with an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts amidst the pressure to succeed in her field. Along with the pressure to perform well, Cain speaks rawly about having to change her body for “ a sports system built by and for men”, with this being the main reason many females struggle with body image and related disorders.
Given the prevalence of eating disorders in the college and sport populations, it is imperative that programs develop treatment protocols for student-athletes which help identify, evaluate, and manage conditions of effected student-athletes. In addition, program personnel should preach body positivity and stress the importance of healthy bodies, both physically and mentally. Since communication is key to success in sports and beyond, coaches, sports personnel, and athletes should also provide a safe haven for counseling which can help effected athletes as they struggle with body image issues and eating disorders. We must eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment and encourage taking the appropriate steps to do so.
Body image isn’t often discussed in sports but this February, Body Awareness Month, The Zone is changing that narrative. Our team encourages you to share your body image stories with us by emailing your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.