I know this looks really long, but I think a few girls out there and maybe parents might take this to heart. It's something that is near and dear to my heart. I want all girls to be heard and so I am addressing the issue. I don't want any debate, these are my opinions and my research.
Young girls need to know and learn how to be strong, they need to learn that beauty is not what people tell them it is, but it is what they believe it is in their hearts. I struggled for a while and I was able to gain the strength on my own.
Remember, there are always people out there that will talk to you! Even me! If any girl out there needs help or guidance feel free to follow me on Facebook (using the follow buttons on the side) and send me a message I am always willing to listen and help.
Adolescent Body Image in Female Athletes
by Andrea Beilner
It was “weigh in” day, the day we all were to weigh in for our personal statistics. All I saw in front of me were the numbers 100 to 125. I heard my name being called, my heart pounded, I was up next. As I stepped onto the little white scale my heart started pounding harder. The red numbers read 150. That was the lowest my weight had ever been. I was taken with excitement. I had lost 30 pounds and four pant sizes to get there. I was proud to have gotten there, but it came with a consequence...I had lost focus on everything else. I had big dreams and aspirations of being a professional volleyball player. Unfortunately, my weight in high school was not what professional coaches wanted. Even after losing so much weight, I was not "good" enough and I struggled with this idea. I began to think, and be told by my coaches, that I wasn't going to make it anywhere if I didn't lose even more weight. I saw many professionals on television that were tall and thin. Which confirmed what everyone around me and what my mind was telling about not being “good enough”. At 5'4", I knew I didn’t have the height, but I thought maybe I could get by with being short, thin and athletic, and still be successful. Because of this I began altering my behaviors. I leaned towards eating disorders practices, but they didn’t “fit” my life style. But that was not the end. Instead, I became obsessed with insane workout routines that began making me sick.
I became obsessed with working out. I would not, and could not, go a day without more than two or three work outs a day. My obsessive compulsive habits and behaviors were becoming just as unhealthy as binging and purging. I worked out like this for a year straight. These work outs were hardcore. I would start running at six am before heading to school, then again in volleyball class, then again at volleyball practice...and if the season was right, one last time at my club volleyball practice. During the off-season, I would do the same workout in the morning, go to the gym after school and do a run again when I got home. This went on from junior year to senior year, all because I wanted to fit in to that 100 to 125 pound club. If I had continued this, it would have been life threatening.
Eating disorders are extremely dangerous and can create severe long term effects. Many girls fall into this trap because they feel like it is the only way they gain control (Phillips et al., 2008). Girls who develop eating disorders often come from homes with dysfunction, but it is slowly emerging that girls with eating disorders can come from what seems normal backgrounds (Yates, 1991). They are often influenced but socio-cultural effects such as community and media influences (Yates, 1991). Girls who fall into the eating disorder categories are easily influenced and need to be helped.
Adolescent girls are constantly pressured to look like females in the media, and more often specifically females who play professional sports. These many social norms and pressures are what influenced me in my high school years as a volleyball player. Social pressures are always influencing females, even at young ages when girls are not even aware that they are being influenced. Even though I was never diagnosed or considered to have a full blown eating disorder, I was still faced with the many pressures and influences the media had on me. Wanting to be in that special weight classification, I became observant of what my peers did to preserve their weight. I was engulfed by the influences of my peers and the media. As an adult, due to my emergence and exit of obsessive compulsive behaviors, I am now able to identify which aspects of my adolescent years were controlled by my goals of being thin. My peers and the media both influenced my emergence into obsessive compulsive behaviors.
Eating Disorders and Compulsive Exercise
Eating and Feeding. Have you ever looked into a circus fun house distortion mirror? That's what it's like for girls who are diagnosed with eating disorders every time they look in a mirror. Girls with eating disorders do not see their true body shape. What they see is a figment of their imaginations and obsession that they are “fat” (Dolgin, 2011). Eating disorders are developed through the obsession and extreme desireto be thin (Dolgin, 2011). Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are the two most common types of eating disorders in adolescent girls (Dolgin, 2011). Both bulimia and anorexia are obsessions with one’s weight and food (Dolgin, 2011). Anorexia is characterized by complete starvation or avoidance of food is practiced (Dolgin, 2011). In my experience, food was something I couldn’t get away from. Bulimia would have been, and was at one point, my eating disorder of choice. One of the ways bulimia is practiced is through the use of laxatives (Dolgin, 2011). In its most recent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMS-V), bulimia is categorized as “binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors” (Feeding and Eating Disorders, 2013). Among these inappropriate behaviors include vomiting and use of laxatives (Feeding and Eating Disorders, 2013). I practiced bulimia by behaving in inappropriate behavior with the use of laxatives. In this form, an individual will take a laxative before binging so that after a binge they have to use the bathroom. Although it wasn’t for long, my stint of bulimia crippled my personality. I became very sullen and short with my family members. That was not the person I wanted to be, so I ended it.
Compulsive exercise. Compulsive exercise is the “religion” I began to practice. It's what I eventually discovered as my new way of becoming the thin and lean individual I had always wanted to be. Compulsive exercise is fairly new in women’s fight to be what they consider their ideal weight, in comparison to eating disorders. Activity and exercise is good for your health, but when it becomes compulsive or obsessive, it may have an extreme negative effect on your body. Compulsive exercise, like anorexia and bulimia, focuses on control (Yates, 1991). The ability to control your body is an idea that girls strive for in the struggle to be thin. Dieting and exercise has become a norm to behavior of women and girls alike (Yates, 1991). Compulsive exercise is the over use of body-based activities such as weight lifting, running and other sports (Yates, 1991).
Compulsive exercise can be fatal. For example, the heart can become over worked and cause a cardiac arrhythmia that can result in a quick death for those who run excessively (Yates, 1991). Compulsive exercisers can also experience withdrawal and loss of control when they are not able to exercise, whether due to an injury or to time constraints (Yates, 1991). In my own situation, at volleyball practice one day I suffered from a concussion. Even though I had a concussion I continued to play because sitting on the side line made my heart pound and my head run wild. I needed to be out there to keep from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. My concussion was not serious, but if it were any worse I could have suffered major problems. Although compulsive exercise is not classified as a disorder, it is a serious concept that is compared to eating disorders in women (Yates, 1991). Compulsive exercise, as well as eating disorders, are more commonly found in countries that have high expectations of women as well as pressure on individuals to be perfect (Yates, 1991).
Compulsive exercise has recently been accepted as part of the body-dysmorphia disorder as classified by the DSM-V (Phillips et al., 2010). Body-dysmorphia is an obsessive compulsive disorder that revolves around controlling specific or general parts of an individual’s body (Phillips et al., 2010). An individual with this kind of obsessive compulsive disorder may be fully convinced that their body is abnormal (Highlights of Changes, 2013). They may believe that they have many flows or defects and may try to control this by inappropriate behaviors (Highlights of Changes, 2013). Compulsive exercise fits into this category because of its obsessive nature to control the way the body looks and feels (Phillips et al., 2010).
Views on Professional Athletes
Female athletes are seen as attention seekers (Krane et al., 2011). They are always surrounded by men and women alike, as well as media companies (Krane et al., 2011). In the media, the appearance of female athletes is emphasized more often than their skill and athletic ability (Krane et al., 2011). This reinforces society’s ideas on what a female body should be, and how masculine is too masculine and vice versa (Krane et al., 2011). Girls learn about how their bodies should and should not look like from pictures in magazines or from television commercials (Krane et al., 2011). In my own experience, there was a commercial on our local news channel featuring one of my volleyball idols. She was advertising a weight loss supplement claiming she had lost weight and gained “attractive” muscle. This commercial is a perfect example of one way girls may become confused between what being athletic is and what being skinny is. My idol was of average height and slender, and she had not lost weight, she was naturally athletic and tremendously skilled at volleyball. This is probably one of the reasons that I wanted to be thinner. Because she was of average height I had the false hope of thinking that being thinner would override being taller in the volleyball world.
with the thinness culture publicly. Marion Bartoli is
one of France’s top tennis players. In 2013 she won the Wimbledon championship but was faced with a media outburst on her weight (McCann, 2013). The internet blew up, calling her fat, ugly and manly (McCann, 2013). Many people all over the internet
criticized her and said that “she did not deserve to win as she is too ‘ugly’” (McCann, 2013). This story relates to this topic because of its direct link to the media and the idea of female athletes appearance. Marion's great amount of skill in tennis wasn't what people were paying attention to. Rather, the main concern of the media was her body, the idea that she was not thin as well as her athletic build that they dubbed manly. As a matter of fact, Marion is called an amazing role model in her home town by many (McCann, 2013). Marion has defied society’s norms of thinness and has started to give girls a new opportunity to have a positive role model who is happy in her own body.
In a study on adolescent female athletes, it was found that girls internalize their ideals of thinness as they grow older (Clark & Tiggemann, 2008). As girls grow and develop around the media they are constantly faced with seeing thin actresses or weight loss program commercials. When this happens at young ages girls are more likely to internalize the ideas of being thin (Clark & Tiggemann, 2008). Internalization leads to the growing distortion of body image and can lead to the obsessive compulsive behaviors of exercise or eating (Clark & Tiggemann, 2008). Because of internalization, when girls observe their favorite athletes on television, they soak that up and begin to believe they should be like them.
When young girls become obsessed with their body-image they may become compulsive. In my own case, I struggled with the obsession of feeling like the girl who won’t succeed. I was constantly faced with the pressure of being thin and even more athletic. I was an athletic girl. I was strong and had stamina but I was built differently than other girls. However, my personal view of my body had become distorted I had troubles believing in how I really was. Seeing the other girls on my team pass up a meal or see my favorite professional volleyball player promote a weight loss program aided in my obsession with being thin.
Adolescent females internalize the ideas of thinness from the media at a young age (Clark & Tiggemann, 2008). Girls see these women in the media gaining attention, and this is desired in high school girls (Krane et al., 2011). Physical attractiveness is important to teenage girls, and it increases their views on their popularity status and social acceptance (Dolgin, 2011). Because I was a female athlete in high school, the volleyball team was my social circle. Because of this I was more worried about achieving social acceptance on the volleyball team by fitting into the physical norms or being thin and muscular.
The story of Marion Bartoli directly identifies what people believe female athletes should look like. But because of her strength and drive to reach her goal of winning a major tennis championship, she was able to shift her focus to the game and not the negative attention she was getting. More girls need to recognize the role models like Marion. This can help girls realize they do not need to be extremely attractive women like Serena Williams or Anna Sharapova who are constantly doing beauty commercials. These women are given much attention because of their beauty and glamor. Marion Bartoli has received little attention since winning the Wimbledon in 2013. Girls need to be able to identify with women who are more like Marion so that they no longer internalize the ideas of thinness. Because of the internalization of the thinness norms, girls are blind to what they really look like and their bodies become distorted in their brains. If girls can have the ability to identify with women more like themselves, they may be able to reach more attainable and healthy goals. Like Marion Bartoli, I am not the thinnest or the tallest girl, but because I loved my sport so much I continued to play. Although I never won any professional championships or became successful in my sport, I still overcame the competition that was going on in my head to be thin. I believe that if I had a role model similar to Marion who knew and acknowledged the norms of being thin, I may not have tried to attain an unattainable goal of being thin.
Constantly faced with the distorted view of my body in the mirror, I struggled every day with making the decision to eat or exercise. I was always faced with seeing skinnier girls beat me in a long distance race when I knew I could be just like them. As well as being confronted with my role model, my favorite volleyball player, become emerged into the world of thinness by doing weight loss commercials. I was faced with the confusion of whether I would ever reach any of my goals as a volleyball player. My venture into the obsessive compulsive world was not a successful one. I tested and rejected eating disorders, then finally tested and accepted compulsive exercise as my religion. Compulsive exercise allowed me to schedule my life accordingly. I was in control, but what I did not know was what the consequences were going to me. Once I started feeling sick after a workout and losing my focus in school I began to realize what the consequences were.
It seems that almost every day young girls are faced with the idea of thinness. Even adolescent female athletes, like myself, are faced with the idea that being feminine means being thin. Female athletes are portrayed as beautiful slender and feminine (Krane et al., 2011). They attract young girls because of the attention they get from the media, the fans and men (Krane et al., 2011).
Unfortunately, young girls begin to internalize this and it can be a contributing factor in the lowered self-body image of adolescent girls. When girls internalize this they become immersed into the world of inappropriate obsessive compulsive behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia and compulsive exercise. These behaviors can be fatal and can cause mental and physical problems for the teens and their families. Hopefully in the future there will be world recognition of this problem and something will be addressed about what the media is presenting to our teenagers. Near the end of my teen years I was able to get rid of the internalized thoughts of role models and peers and listen to my own body. Although I overcame my struggles with weight on my own, there are many girls out there who do not have the willpower and strength to overcome on their own.
Clark, L. & Tiggemann, M. (2008). Sociocultural and individual psychological predictors of body image in young girls a prospective study. Developmental Psychology, 44(4), 1124-1134. doi: 10.1037/0012-1618.104.22.1684
Dolgin, K. G. (2011). The Adolescent: development, relationships, and culture (13th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Feeding and Eating Disorders (2013). American Psychiatric Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/documents/eating%20disorders%20fact%20sheet.pdf
Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-V (2013). American Psychiatric Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/changes%20from%20dsm-iv-tr%20to%20dsm-5.pdf
Krane, V., Ross, S. R., Miller, M., Ganoe, K., Lucas-Carr, C., & Barak, K. S. (2011). “It’s Cheesy when they smile”: what girl athletes prefer in images of female college athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 755-768. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.cityu.edu/docview/912383834/fulltextPDF?accountid=1230#
McCann, J. (2013). French tennis star who won Wimbledon faces Twitter backlash from vile online trolls calling her ‘fat and ‘too ugly to win’. Retrieved on March 19, 2014 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2357553/French-tennis-star-won-Wimbledon-faces-Twitter-backlash-vile-online-trolls-calling-fat-ugly-win.html
Phillips, K. A., Wilhelm, S., Koran, L. M., Didie, E. R., Fallon, B. A., Feusner, D., & Stein, D. J. (2010) Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Some key issues for DSM-V. Depression and Anxiety, 27, 573-591. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/research/documents/phillips_bdd.pdf
Yates, A. (1991). Compulsive exercise and the eating disorders: toward an integrated theory of activity. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel Publishers. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=OGOmFKjqqnoC&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=compulsive+exercise+disorder&ots=EB_aPe2JKX&sig=FkizAK4BTTeLb6-d1QYayE-118o#v=onepage&q=compulsive%20exercise%20disorder&f=false