Body image issues increased in female athletes

Ziv Galpaz, Staff Writer

For soccer, it’s legs, for gymnastics, it’s arms, for volleyball, it’s height. Each of these parts highly affects an athlete’s performance in their respective sport and are often the part that cause the most body image concerns.

These pressures to conform to idealistic body types manifest themselves in several ways, including eating disorders. In a study about Div. I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student athletes, over 33% of athletes reported attitudes and symptoms of eating disorders according to National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

Junior Emily Murphy plays for girls varsity soccer, having played competitive soccer since second grade. She has been playing for GPS, a club that performs at the junior national level for the last four years. 

Murphy attends four practices a week and plays one- to- two games each weekend. This continuous effort builds muscle, changing the body from its original shape. 

Even with all the work into optimizing her athleticism, she sometimes feels hesitant about her image.

“I sometimes doubt my body, and it can make me self-conscious,” she said. “But then I also have to take a step back and realize that other girls are not necessarily playing the same sport I am and my body allows me to excel in my sport.” 

Athletic bodies are far from the national average according to the Center for Disease and Control. The average height and weight of an American teenage girl is around 5’3 and 118 pounds. Athletes are constantly pushing their bodies to their full abilities bringing them further away from the average teenage body.

Junior Flor Porras, the girls varsity volleyball defensive specialist, says that her smaller stature has led her at times to feel undermined and self-conscious in a sport that values height.

“There is mainly a stereotype, especially concerning height,” Porras said. “If you work hard enough, you can prove people otherwise.”

Ultimately, these worries stem from stereotypes within and out of their respective sports. Outside of their athletic expectations, they also feel the need to conform to the average body. Sports that emphasize appearance, such as gymnastics and dance, have the unrealistic belief that thinner means better performance, which puts their athletes at the highest risk for eating disorders.

Junior Sela Pegano, former competitive gymnast, quit gymnastics to focus on track in October because of the negative gymnastics environment.

“In gymnastics I had this one coach who would comment on my height, and I would try to slouch to look shorter.”

Pegano, who reached the second highest level in gymnastics, said it was not a rare occurrence that a coach would shame certain girls to look skinnier.

Other girls Pegano trained with were worried about wearing tank tops in public because of their strong, muscular arms.

 Every sport asks for certain physical characteristics for athletes to reach their full potential,

But athletes such as Porras have found the advantages to their physical disadvantages and see past them. 

“I believe that if you work hard enough and show your athleticism, you can surpass anyone that is taller than you.”