Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Socially Constructed Body Image of Female Adolescent Cheerleaders

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Socially Constructed Body Image of Female Adolescent Cheerleaders

Article excerpt

Abstract

Adolescent cheerleaders are seen as American icons, but psychosocial factors can predispose them to body image disturbances and disordered eating. Understanding body image development is critical to promoting healthy body image, as well as preventing disordered eating and its related health risks. The purpose of this study was to explore the development of body image among adolescent female cheerleaders. A grounded theory approach was used to conduct 26 interviews with 14 adolescent female cheerleaders (M= 14.07, SD = 2.40) who cheered at All-star gyms, junior high, or high schools to explore their body image experiences. The categories included body awareness (i.e., physical changes, body comparison), cheerleading environment (i.e., cheerleading image, position body type, uniform), and social factors (i.e., parental influences, comments from others). These categories influenced body image through the central category, developing attitude, demonstrating the complexity of body image construction among adolescent females.

During adolescence young women begin to undergo pubertal body changes, with 24 to 46% reporting body dissatisfaction (Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Hannan, Perry, & Irving, 2002). Eighty percent of girls in North America are dieting (Dorian & Garfinkel, 1999), which can be the first step toward more severe unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating or restriction) and eating disorders (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006; Spear, 2006). Approximately 61.7% of adolescent females reported attempting to lose weight using pathogenic methods such as restricting, diet pills, vomiting, and laxative use (Eaton et al., 2006). Adolescent girls are more likely than any other age group to develop eating disorders. With an incidence rate of 5% for adolescent females, eating disorders rank as the third most common chronic illness in this population (Golden et al., 2003). Over 10 million U.S. females have been clinically diagnosed with eating disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, yield numerous health consequences, and destroy family systems (Casiero & Frishman, 2006).

Several factors (i.e., negative affect, dietary restraint, deficits in peer and parental support) predict body dissatisfaction, and body dissatisfaction is the strongest risk factor for disordered eating among adolescents (Bearman, Presnell, Martinez, & Stice, 2006; Paxton, Eisenberg, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2006). However, understanding the mechanisms of body image development among adolescent females who participate in sports is limited. Interestingly, young athletes in aesthetic sports (e.g., cheerleading, figure skating) reported negative body image associated with pressures in the sport environment (Sherman & Thompson, 2009).

Many adolescent competitive cheerleaders experience weight-related pressures, feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and engage in disordered eating behaviors (Reel & Gill, 1996; Thompson & Digsby, 2004). Thompson and Digsby discovered that 70% of high school cheerleaders were dissatisfied with their bodies. Reel and Gill (1996) revealed that 84% of high school and college cheerleaders reported a demand to lose weight or maintain an unhealthy weight for their sport. High school cheerleaders reported the uniform as the most salient pressure (60.7%), followed by peers (53.6%) and stunt partners (41.6%), and reported stronger body dissatisfaction and disordered eating than college cheerleaders. Therefore, a qualitative research methodology (grounded theory) was used to gain an in-depth understanding of the process of body image development among adolescents to serve as a foundation for building healthy body image in this unique population. Therefore, the research question was, how do female adolescent cheerleaders develop their body image?

Method

Design

A grounded theory methodology was used to better understand body image development in female adolescent cheerleaders and to generate a substantive theory through inductive analysis. …

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