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Justine J. Reel and Robert A. Bucciere

According to stigma theory, individuals with disabilities possess “discrediting attributes” that prevent them from meeting culturally constructed standards of beauty. An individual with a disability may find that his or her body is viewed as being somehow defective, deviant, or grotesque. Persons with disabilities feel that they are unable to achieve the societal ideal and that their masculinity or femininity may be questioned (Bucciere & Reel, 2009). As a result, individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities face a decreased sense of self worth, poor body image, and in some cases may be vulnerable to eating disorders.

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Justine J. Reel, Robert A. Bucciere and Sonya SooHoo

Individuals with intellectual disabilities are largely marginalized within society and are understudied as a group (Reel & Bucciere, 2011). Although there have been numerous body image studies with able-bodied athletes, this study represents the first attempt to explore body image of male and female Special Olympics athletes. Athletes (N = 103) were 18–61 years of age (M = 33.34; SD = 11.20) and represented mild to moderate severity for diagnosable intellectual disabilities. Height and weight were measured to determine body mass index (BMI). Body image was verbally assessed via individual interviews using the Figure Ratings Scale and open-ended items. Female athletes had a significantly higher BMI (M = 33.02, SD = 9.28) than male athletes (M = 28.24, SD = 7.38). The BMI means for the female and male athletes met the classifications for obese and overweight, respectively. There was also a negative relationship between body satisfaction and BMI in the overall sample (r = -.46), male athletes only (r = -.51), and female athletes only (r = -.38, indicating that higher BMI was associated with lower body satisfaction. Descriptive statistics revealed that 51% of female athletes and 37% of male athletes desired a thinner physique, whereas 20% of female athletes and 29.6% of male athletes wanted to be larger. There were no significant gender differences in levels of overall body dissatisfaction in this study.