Body Image and Athleticism
Because we marvel at the physical accomplishments of high-performance sport, and regard the elegance and finesse of a classical ballet with admiration, we also assume that the men and women who execute these skills are highly satisfied with their bodies. However, the research linking subjective body image perceptions and athleticism suggests that the relationship between the two is far from simple, nor is it always positive. Instead it is influenced and moderated by a number of factors, such as the type of activity, the gender of the participants, their degree of commitment, and a host of psychological characteristics. Another consideration—and one that provides the framework for this chapter—is the distinction between body image in the context of competitive athletics and (semi)professional dance, and that relating to recreational sport and exercise activities.
The impression we hold of our body is usually the complex outcome of factors that foster satisfaction, offset by those that create dissatisfaction. Whether we examine the sporting arena, the dance studio, or the health club, it is clear that each environment can exert both positive and negative influences, albeit they may affect different individuals in different ways. This chapter describes the most consistent findings in the area of body image and athleticism and considers how body image can impact a variety of health-related behaviors such as dieting and other weight loss methods.
Most competitive athletes recognize the important relationship between optimal performance and low body weight, since weight greater than a healthy minimum tends to limit agility and speed and contributes to increased fa-