Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

NCAA DII Female Student-Athletes' Perceptions of Their Sport Uniforms and Body Image

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

NCAA DII Female Student-Athletes' Perceptions of Their Sport Uniforms and Body Image

Article excerpt

Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) refers to the ways in which females are sexually objectified in various contexts and is a lens researchers have used to understand the perceptions of athletes about their uniform and body image in the sporting environment (Steinfeldt, Zakrajsek, Bodey, Middendorf, & Martin, 2013). According to this theory, women from Western cultures are considered objects, and their value is determined based on their appearance; thus, girls and women may internalize these values and focus their attention on how they look (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). This internalized self-objectification leads to constant self-monitoring and self-surveillance of appearance which can siphon attention away from important activities (e.g., sport performance). Psychological consequences that arise from this process include body shame, anxiety, lack of awareness of physiological states (e.g., hunger), and fewer flow experiences (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997).

Athletics provides a unique backdrop for body objectification (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997); this is especially true considering that the sporting environment "places the physical body on center stage ... in which [female athletes'] bodies are evaluated not only based on performance, but on appearance" (Greenleaf, 2002, p. 63). In some sports, female athletes wear skintight uniforms that expose their bodies, potentially increasing their experiences of being sexualized by others (Koines, 1995). Moreover, female athletes--specifically those who wear revealing uniforms--have reported their awareness of others' evaluations of their bodies (Krane, Waldron, Michalenok, & Stiles-Shipley, 2001). Therefore, feelings of objectification related to the body may be closely linked to the type of sport uniform female athletes are required to wear. Tight and revealing uniforms may lead to self-surveillance and body monitoring (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Moreover, Gurung and Chouse (2007) found that female athletes who were photographed wearing revealing clothing were deemed less intelligent and capable than those photographed in looser clothing. Thus, the tight and/ or revealing uniforms required for female sports may be related to feelings of objectification and ultimately negative psychological outcomes and experiences within sport.

Researchers have suggested that female athlete experiences of body objectification through their sport uniforms may begin as early as adolescence. For example, Thomsen, Bower, and Barnes (2004) interviewed 41 adolescent female volleyball players about their female athletes' phtographs in sport, fitness, and health magazines. The interviewees reported negative evaluations of female volleyball uniforms, which included comments focused on the impossibility of meeting the ideal body standards that the spandex shorts imposed. More recently, a study with 404 adolescent female athletes found that those who participated in sports described as aesthetic individual sports (i.e., swimming, figure skating, ballet dancing, tennis, track and cross-country) reported significantly more anxiety about their bodies than both aesthetic (i.e., volleyball, color guard, auxiliary dance, cheerleading) and nonaesthetic (i.e., basketball, soccer, softball, marching band) team sport participants (Gay, Monsma, & Torres-McGehee, 2011). Therefore, it appears that female adolescent athletes may experience magnified body image concerns related to sport uniforms, especially those that are tight and revealing. In addition, adolescent female athletes who are physically maturing and required to wear more revealing sport uniforms may be at a higher risk for experiencing concerns related to body dissatisfaction and anxiety than those required to wear less revealing uniforms.

Feelings of objectification and body image concerns associated with revealing uniforms also seem to be present in adult and collegiate athletes (Krane, Waldron, et al. …

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