Body Image Concerns in Female Exercisers and Athletes: A Feminist Cultural Studies Perspective

in Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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  • 1 Bowling Green State University
  • 2 Michigan State University
  • 3 Bowling Green State University
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A feminist cultural studies framework was employed to better understand the relationships among body image, eating, and exercise in female exercisers and athletes. Participants (N=18) engaged in focus group interviews regarding their ideal body image, eating and exercise patterns, and feelings associated with eating and exercising. The athlete interviews also included questions concerning their coach, performance issues, and comfort with their uniforms. Results revealed that most of the women in this study desired an unrealistic ideal body: a toned body with minimal fat. The exercisers emphasized being toned, yet they also avoided too much muscularity. These women constantly were balancing their physical activity and eating: if they exercised, they gave themselves permission to eat and if they ate too much, they punished themselves with exercise. The athletes’ ideal body was dependent upon the social context. Their body satisfaction and concomitant mental states and self-presentation varied depending upon whether the athletes were considering their bodies as athletes or as culturally female.