Promoting Healthy Body Image and Healthy Practices

By Meagan F.

It should be no shock that both males and females face dissatisfaction with their bodies on a regular basis. It should also be no shock that these self-criticisms and peer evaluations emerge during adolescence. While females are usually looking at ways to lose body mass, males are looking to increase it; more specifically, lean muscle. It is very rare to see an overweight or underweight attractive male athlete on the cover of a magazine or highlighting a commercial; much like it is unlikely to see an overweight female athlete. Youth look to these icons as role models; therefore, they may result to any means necessary to obtain their image and success. It is crucial that coaches, parents, trainers and sports media members educate teen athletes on the importance of obtaining a healthy body in a healthy way.

Problems with a negative body image for females often lead to eating disorders, which appear most frequently during adolescence and young adulthood. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses characterized by eating small amounts of food or eating excessive amounts of food followed by purging. Young females with these disorders usually report the desire to obtain a thinner more peer approved body while feelings of dissatisfaction with their body types and severe depression closely follow (Kane, 2012). On the contrary, steroid use and over-exercising are the two main factors seen with males who are wanting to gain muscle mass. Especially in certain sports that require a weight class (wrestling, boxing), boys can be pressured to fluctuate their weight to enter a certain category. This can include dehydration and under-eating to lose weight, or usage of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and over exercising to gain weight. A self-report questionnaire, which allowed multiple answers for each question, was administered to 853 male students in six high schools. Results indicated that an average of 11% of these young boys had used, or were using, anabolic steroids. The results also suggested that these young male athletes were using anabolic steroids without fully understanding the risks of such behaviour, and were using these substances to not only perform better in sport, but to obtain peer approval (Johnson et al., 1999).

In regards to exercise and health, the media plays a fundamental role in sending educative messages to adolescents. While it is refreshing to see that the trend of “strong is the new sexy” is taking off, encouraging the message of “a fit body is a healthy/attractive body” should not stop there. Youth should be able to look at magazine covers and sports commercials and see not only fit athletes, but also be motivated in the correct and healthy ways to obtain these images. Coaches, trainers and team leaders can be important educators by promoting healthy eating practices; stressing the dangers of eating disorders and PEDs, as well as organizing regular exercise routines that focus on fun rather that obtaining goal weights. When coaches focus on fun, it not only keeps youth interested in physical activity, but also keeps them involved. Emphasizing the importance of physical activity for fun and eating correctly to benefit these young athlete’s overall health (physical and psychological) should be just as important as competition drills.

As mentioned, education is key for preventing unhealthy body ideals. Whether it be coaches, teachers or parents, more leaders should inform youth on the dangers of eating disorders, PED’s and mental illness, as many young males and females feel pressured to fit certain images; thus resulting in body abuse. Having not only coaches, parents and trainers speaking out about these ideals, but also hearing to professional athletes to collect their inputs/influences may also gain more attention from youth, as many young athletes look to them as idols.

References

Johnson, M. D., Jay, M. S., Shoup, B., & Rickert, V. I. (1999). Anabolic steroid use by male         adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics and Family Practices, 83(6), 921-924.

Kane, J. (2012). Can Strong Really Be the New Skinny? Journal of Physical Education,             Recreation and Dance, 83(6), 6-12.

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13 Responses to Promoting Healthy Body Image and Healthy Practices

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great Blog Meagan, I agree with your concepts about the social media giving woman and men false advertisement on what is healthy and what is not. Many of these woman on the cover of magazines are so skinny that they probably don’t eat much or portray a “healthy active lifestyle” Many of these images that we see on social media are photo shopped to make these people look perfect while nobody is actually perfect. I believe as well the social media plays a huge role in why many girls develop eating disorders throughout adolescents and I agree that they should be showing off natural healthy body images of woman that are realistic I feel like it would make a big difference in society today. As for the men side of it most of these men in the cover of magazines with the perfect body are taking steroids to enhance their body image which is not healthy and we should not be promoting this to our youth and society. Something has to be done!

  2. Hrendell says:

    Is there no in between? We are bombarded daily about how our society is too overweight and obese but then we see the other extreme where youth are starving themselves to give themselves what they consider to be the ideal body weight or taking steroids to look the way they think they should. Even with the new trend “strong is the new sexy” it is still focused on meeting a social ideal. I have seen people that start on strong is the new sexy look that end up taking it to the competition level for body building where they aren’t just focused on how much they can lift, but how they look in a bathing suit.
    I agree that the focus needs to be on fun. During the Physical Literacy Summit it was talked about how being physically literate needs to be more than just going to the gym for a couple hours during the week. It needs to become part of everyday life. It needs to change from how you look to how healthy you are.

  3. Great post, and I agree with everything you are saying! Negative body image is a huge problem we are facing today, and a huge influence on this is media. I do think we need to change the way bodies are displayed in media, but this is a big job, and can take some time. While it is hard to control the media, it is possible to encourage coaches, trainers, and team leaders to promote a healthy lifestyle overall, as you said. I also really like your point on getting professional athletes to speak out, because one problem is teens who might be working out or going to the gym without a trainer/ coach. Because they don’t have someone to inform them on the importance of eating healthy, taking breaks, etc., professional athletes who do speak out about these ideals could act as positive role models for these youth.

  4. codyb06 says:

    This is spot on. I think a lot of people forget the pressures added to men in this regard, and as you mention having professional athletes talking about these subjects would be a huge step in the right direction. Even if the athlete does not know it they are a huge part of some youths lives. However there are areas in which you must be careful around that, for example UFC fighters cut weight by dehydrating themselves every time they fight. Some fighters have cut close to 40 pounds in as little as 11 days. There is no way this is healthy and this shows the youth that are looking up to these fighters that this is normal and expected in you want to succeed. The youth watching these athletes are most likely fighters themselves or wrestlers etc. so they are likely to try these weight cuts to make them bigger and stronger on fight day. This is an important topic and you did a great job posting about it.

  5. draywells says:

    Great Blog Meagan, I agree with your concepts about the social media giving woman and men false advertisement on what is healthy and what is not. Many of these woman on the cover of magazines are so skinny that they probably don’t eat much or portray a “healthy active lifestyle” Many of these images that we see on social media are photo shopped to make these people look perfect while nobody is actually perfect. I believe as well the social media plays a huge role in why many girls develop eating disorders throughout adolescents and I agree that they should be showing off natural healthy body images of woman that are realistic I feel like it would make a big difference in society today. As for the men side of it most of these men in the cover of magazines with the perfect body are taking steroids to enhance their body image which is not healthy and we should not be promoting this to our youth and society. Something has to be done!

  6. jesseunderhill says:

    This was a great topic, with many good thoughts and examples which I agree with and can easily relate to. PED’s were a very common thing at my high school, and i witnessed the psychological effects that it had on guys. As guys moved from middle school to high school they became directly influenced by the older athletes in the school- who happened to be using PEDS and were getting results. I witnessed many athletes and even guys who never previously went to the gym indulge and abuse PEDS as soon as they got into high school. I know many guys who this effected very negatively, because they didn’t realize the effects that came with it. Many became psychologically addicted to them, and when many stopped after constant abuse they became depressed with their body image. Witnessing this really showed me how much of an effect role models and peers can have on adolescence. There is a real need for parents, teachers, and leaders to help kids develop assets that will help them get through the loads of peer pressure and influence that they face as they became older and more aware of alternative but dangerous opportunities.

  7. kimeagher says:

    Great point Meagan! People of all ages suffer from distorted body image and if we can reach the younger population, perhaps this issue will have less of an impact on the next generation. One way to combat the plague of negative body image and, intern, health risks could be to focus on guiding youth in considering the ‘Big Picture’, their future. A study conducted by Schnell, Mayer, Diehl, Zipfel, and Thiel (2013) looked at the risk acceptance of youth in various competitive sports. What they found was that a youth’s acceptance of risk and risky behaviors could not be determined by their gender, or by the sport they played. It was those athletes who considered their life and their sport one in the same, who were more willing to accept risk such as extreme cutting to meet a weight requirement, etc. Athletes, who consider their sports participation to be one part of their life and not the be-all-end-all, are less likely to take risks. What I got from this article is that by ensuring youth see futures and value in other activities as well as sport; they may care more about their overall health then their immediate physical state. Youth leaders, parents, and coaches can emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy bodies and minds for sports performance and success in other areas of their adolescents’ lives. I hope we are able to build confidence and positive body image into the characters of the next generation.

    References:

    Schnell, A., Mayer, J., Diehl, K., Zipfel, S., & Thiel, A. (2014). Giving everything for athletic success! – sports-specific risk acceptance of elite adolescent athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(2), 165-172. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.10.012

  8. emilymckim says:

    Great post Meagan.
    
I completely agree that body image is a huge problem among the youth of today. They are bombarded with images of “sexy” athletes, which consists of underweight females and extremely enhanced males. These ideals are not always achievable which leads youth to practice unhealthy weight loss or gain practices. As you mentioned anorexia is a problem among young males and females. In synchronized swimming having the perfect body type actually influences the marks the judges give you. This is not part of the criteria; however, many judges will view an ultra skinny swimmer as more talented then a swimmer that might be carrying the proper or a little extra amount of weight. Because the young girls are always in bathing suits, this creates a lot of anxiety for some swimmers. There is no way to hide your insecurities. I have had a few swimmers who have suffered from eating disorders. Some because they feel they are over weight and others because they feel that they have too much muscle. When you think sports and physical activity you picture someone who is fit and has muscles. This particular swimmer was very fit and had strong muscles that she was ashamed of because in synchronized swimming the ideal is an overly thin body. 
Healthy body ideals and health practices are very important messages to be sending to the youth of today. It is very easy with the images being presents today for them to fall victim of these body image issues. Again, great post Meagan.

  9. hvesterb says:

    Great post Zoran. I grew up in a single parent household, so this topic really hits home for me.. Fortunately, my family values sport, recreation, and leisure. I was able to build my leisure repertoire and reap the countless benefits sports and recreation activities have to offer. Search Institute suggests that family strengths are more positively associated with youth well-being than family’s structure. A strong family, regardless of makeup, encourages optimal asset development for youth; increasing skills, healthy relationships, and pro-social behaviors that result in a favorable transition into adulthood.

    Divorce without a doubt can prove to be a barrier for youth development, however, I believe that sport and recreation advocates have the power to lessen the disparities you’ve outlined in your post. Viewing ALL youth as potential assets is a primary principle of youth development. This means programs must be designed to cater to the needs of single parent families. The One Parent Family Association (OPFA) can serve as a beneficial resource for both youth and adults. This volunteer organization offers a variety of sports, recreation, and leisure opportunities that can positively contribute to youth development. This organization can instill values of recreation and leisure in families, build bonding and bridging social capital, and enhance resiliency. Ultimately, I think that educating parents about the principles of youth development will ensure children have the experiences that enable them to thrive!

    -Hannah V

  10. hvesterb says:

    Awesome post Meagan! Skipping meals to avoid getting ‘fat’, taking steroids to look like movie stars, and bullying based on physical appearance are all examples that illustrate the overwhelming impact body image has for youth today. Healthy body image clearly plays a vital role in the emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children. Assets including interpersonal skills, resistance skills, positive identity, and planning and decision-making skills can be negatively influenced by unconstructive body perceptions. One article I read revealed that an estimated 60% of high school students are unsatisfied with their physical appearance (Dagenais, Senécal, & Manceau, 2012). The media portrays body images that are unrealistic and unhealthy. Unfortunately, modern youth are constantly glued to screens; this without a doubt skews their perceptions of what ‘healthy’ really looks like. Too many children experience anxiety about physical appearance, which leads them to engage in risky behaviours; compromising their optimal thriving.
    As you mentioned, it is imperative that schools, families, communities, as well as sport and recreation leaders come together to promote positive and healthy behaviours. I feel that as opposed to a fear driven approach, we should provide youth with the information, skills, and strategies necessary to overcome the excessive societal pressures. I also feel that it is important to involve youth when designing and implementing body image campaigns. This provides an opportunity for asset development, establishing social capital, and increasing resiliency and can ensure initiatives are developed to cater the needs and interests of youth. I am optimistic that we have the power to positively and proactively help youth to understand how to lead a holistic and happy life.
    – Hannah V
    Referenced Article

    Dagenais, F., Senécal, A., & Manceau, M. (2012). Promoting healthy body image among youth. Retrieved from http://www.lavalfamilies.ca/articles.asp?a=33

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