Objectification theory postulates that societal norms influence women to internalize cultural standards of beauty and thinness as their own. The consequences of objectification experiences include body shame, anxiety, body surveillance, and internalization of the thin ideal. Self-presentation theory suggests that individuals attempt to control and manage impressions when they perceive they are being evaluated by others. Previous research has documented the role of apparel in objectification of women and how women use apparel to create particular impressions. Research has also documented how objectification and self-presentation mediates reasons and motivations for exercise. However, qualitative explorations of women’s thoughts and feelings regarding exercise apparel as a motivator or deterrent for physical activity within these frameworks are lacking. In the current study, twelve recreationally active women were interviewed to understand their perceptions of exercise apparel in relation to their exercise environment and motivation to exercise. Two higher order themes emerged: exercise apparel as a tool for the optimal exercise experience (lower order themes: comfort, functionality of clothing, and reciprocal relationship between motivation and affect) and societal influences shaping exercise apparel choices (lower order themes: social influence and social comparison within the exercise setting, the cultural standard, and past experiences of evaluation). For the women in our study, exercise apparel serves as both a motivator and deterrent for exercise and certain exercise apparel contributes to self-presentation concerns within the exercise setting.
The author is with the Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI.