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“It’s Just a Lot Different Being Male Than Female in the Sport”: An Exploration of the Gendered Culture Around Body Pressures in Competitive Figure Skating

Dana K. Voelker and Justine J. Reel

Figure skaters experience pressure associated with their sport to change their body weight, shape, or size to meet appearance and performance expectations. Figure skaters may experience different body-related expectations based on gender despite performing in identical or similar training and competition environments. In a qualitative investigation that examined body pressure experiences of male skaters, participants discussed some of their struggles, but seemed compelled to discuss, unexpectedly, the plight of female skaters in facing the skating body ideal. The present findings represent an exploratory analysis of qualitative data elucidating the body pressure experiences of female skaters through the eyes of male skaters. Participants were 13 competitive male figure skaters ages 16–24 (M = 18.53). Analyzed using a social constructivist and critical perspective, the results demonstrated the salience of body pressures for female skaters and afforded insight into sociocultural and historical factors that influence how male and female skaters experience their bodies differently in a skating context. Male skaters reported they faced less extreme body pressures, had certain physical advantages, and tended to be more confident than female skaters, which underscored a gendered body pressure experience. This work explores the intersections of gender and power within figure skating and examines body image concerns and unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors as a larger social justice issue that serves to encourage similar investigations in other sports.