Body image a paradox for female athletes

Bodies–the ever-evident feature of our appearance–so many bodies, yet not one the same. Each beautiful in its own way and so on. Of course, these are all common sayings, fleeting statements meant to placate the burning criticisms against the bodies that don’t fit the societal construction of attractiveness. For many this pressure can be very damaging, specifically in terms of body image. Often, the exemplification of someone struggling difficulties with body image is a teenage girl perusing over magazines (or something of the like), mooning over the appearance of models that may or not have been manipulated. Yes, as of late, however, there has been a real shift towards more acceptance, though this is hardly a solution. This is a dangerous limitation of those who contend with negative body images–while it is true that a large number of young girls have negative body image, it is also the problem of many young boys, adolescents, adults or perhaps even athletes.
There is something about being in sport that all athletes must accept beyond the strenuous physical activity and such: the frequent public scrutiny, especially of their bodies. It goes without saying that athletes are assumed to have and maintain bodies at the peak of their strength and agility. They are required by some unspoken contract to be fit, but not too fit, and who is deciding? The people they surround themselves with, the people admiring them, the people criticizing them and so on. Yet they themselves never seem to be on the deciding end.
This is the active branding of athletes, with attractiveness being the gateway to sponsorships and deals. To be visible in the athletic world is a mix of skill in their sport and a promising physical appearance, it is this behavior that degrades the athlete as an athlete, glorifying yet again, the value beauty. Though this applies more to professional athletes, most of the same principle behaviors are still prevalent in lower level athletics.
For female athletes, beyond the overt mockery of female sports, they undergo constant sexualization. A simple photo-shoot displaying a woman’s strength and comfort in her own skin receives a commentary of limited support, lewd suggestions and vicious slut-shaming. A female athlete cannot be nearly nude without reason as her body has already been labeled as a sexual object. Further, a female athlete, though it is within their job to be strong, has a predetermined limit for how strong she can appear. There is some societal aversion of muscularity in women; she can be strong, but once her biceps become visible or her abdominals too defined, some invisible line has been crossed. God forbid she doesn’t appear as fit as she should!
More recently, there has been much of this discussion due to the constant attack against tennis champion Serena Williams. As one of the best female athletes of all time, it can be assumed that she has gotten so far through persistence and hard work. Thus an obvious result would be the development of power within her body manifested as muscle. Yet, this must not be a common pathway of thought as many still comment on her appearance rather than her record breaking tennis game.
For the male athlete, there is a completely different form of pressure. While male athletes also experience sexualization, they are expected to be bigger and stronger. They are scrutinized for their appearance, especially their height and muscle mass. This is a projected factor of the increased use of steroids among male athletes. Likewise, female and male athletes can be pressured into disordered eating due to dissatisfaction with their body image.
It is safe to say that there needs to be some restructuring of how we think of and present athletes in the media. If not only to protect athletes, but to end the cyclical nature of body image pressure.

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