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”On and off the pitch”: Young female athletes and the balancing act between the performing and objectified body

Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet)
Författare Carolina Lunde
Kristina Holmqvist Gattario
Publicerad i Appearance Matters 7, London, Storbritannien, 28-30 juni.
Publiceringsår 2016
Publicerad vid Psykologiska institutionen
Språk en
Ämnesord adolescent athletes, body image, appearance ideals, sport
Ämneskategorier Psykologi


Background: Participating in sport has many positive effects on physical and mental health. For adolescent girls, who are socialized into judging themselves based on physical appearance, it has even been suggested that the sport environment may serve as a protective factor against the development of body image concerns. On the other hand, some sports may expose young women to additional appearance pressures by a strong emphasis on the importance of leanness, weight, or aesthetics for performance. In this study, focus group interviews were used to shed light on young female athletes’ views and experiences in relation to the body in- and outside of sport. Methods: Seven focus group interviews with adolescent girls in Sweden (maximum five participants per group, 15-20 years of age) were done. Participants were part of a follow-up research project, focusing on sport participation and physical activity among adolescent girls. Focus group participants were selected on basis of their frequent involvement in their respective sport (i.e., soccer, swimming or equestrian, which are among the most popular sports for Swedish girls). Findings: A thematic analysis showed that while the girls raised many positive aspects of the body in relation to sport participation, there was also a conflict in the intersection between the sport culture (emphasizing physical performance) and the broader culture outside of sport (emphasizing physical appearance). Four themes were created to summarize the struggle to balance between these two cultures: 1) Agency and empowerment versus restricting gender stereotypes, 2) The performing body versus the objectified body, 3) Food as fuel versus source of shame, and 4) Appreciation of diversity versus appearance prejudice. Discussion: While engaging in sport seems to have many benefits for girls’ body image, for example by encouraging a sense of embodiment, young female athletes may find themselves in a constant balancing act between contradictory expectations and messages about the body. Empowering young female athletes by providing knowledge and support to help them balance norms and expectations “on and off the pitch” is an important objective.

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