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.
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.