Be aware of the objectification of bodies
For a summary of the terms used when discussing objectification, click here.
Objectification theory is a framework for understanding the experience of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body. The theory proposes that girls and women, more so than boys and men, are socialised to internalise an observer's perspective as their primary view of their physical selves.
Sports and the objectification of female bodies
There is some support for the relationship between self-objectification and competitive level in sports. Muscat and Long (2008) determined that athletes who competed in more competitive sports (e.g., engaging in structured sports at international, national, or regional levels) received more critical comments about their appearance than athletes who participated in recreational sports.
Objectification can also be expressed through body shaming. It is not uncommon in sports for athletes and coaches to believe there are certain ideal body types for success in sport, and when an athlete perceives themselves as not meeting that standard, they may feel shame as a result. Women matching athletes in various sports have reported receiving critical comments about their appearance from family, friends, coaches, and trainers. Comments targeted the athletes’ appearance, weight, and the discrepancy between their bodies and the ideal for their particular sport. Athletes who experienced these critical comments reported feeling more body shame and anxiety than athletes who did not (Muscat & Long, 2008).
Sport as an emancipatory tool
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) suggest that participation in sport may be one way for women matching and non-binary athletes to resist the internalisation of an objectifying perspective by focusing on what a body can do rather than how it looks. Accordingly, one would expect sports participation to be associated with lower levels of self-objectification and its consequences. However, self-objectification is likely to be enhanced in situations that accentuate an individual’s awareness of observers’ perspectives of their body. Therefore, sports that emphasise or focus on appearance are likely to enhance self-objectification and, thus, its consequences.
With all of the problems associated with self-objectification, Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) offered some suggestions to reduce self-objectification. One suggestion is that women-matching athletes should be involved in sports, particularly at young ages, to promote awareness of what their bodies can do instead of how they look.
Source: SELF-OBJECTIFICATION AND SPORTS PARTICIPATION: DO THE GENDERED
MAKEUP AND COMPETITIVE LEVEL OF THE TEAM MATTER?
Alison Ede, B.A.
Objectification of men
Male body image issues don’t occur in a vacuum. Men's mental health conditions and low self-esteem are often at the root of these unhealthy behaviours and co-occurring disorders. A meta-analysis of 23 studies involving young males at Western universities found that male body image issues are significantly associated with anxiety and depression.
When a person becomes fixated on their physical appearance and body dysphoria, it significantly negatively affects their mental health. In media and popular culture, the ideals of masculinity are very closely tied with the ideals of the masculine figure (tall, muscular, broad). This representation reinforces the idea that if you don't meet these criteria, it actively undermines that person's masculinity and masculine identity. In addition, teen boys who experience bullying due to their appearance may continue to suffer from body dissatisfaction and related issues as they mature into young adults. Male body image issues can result from trauma connected with bullying, sexual trauma, or other childhood trauma.
Once we as a society can understand that men are more than their physical appearance, we can begin to change the culture of ideal bodies toward more productive ends of health, body acceptance, and celebration of all body types. For men, unhealthy body expectations are far-reaching, affecting how boys grow up viewing themselves, leading to the development of eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia, and ultimately making for an unhappy, unsatisfied lifestyle.
Consequences of objectification in athletes
Body change behaviours in athletes
Compulsive exercise behaviours in athletes
Restrictive dieting behaviours in athletes
Body image disturbance in athletes
Negative self-talk and lack of confidence
Negative mental health effects
Ways to tackle objectification
A negative body image may have developed throughout your life, so changing it can take time and effort. Suggestions for improving your body image include:
Reflect on your experiences and try to identify the influences on your body image from childhood.
Try weighing or 'body-checking' (pinching, measuring, mirror-checking) yourself less often. Focus on health and vitality, not weight, size and shape.
Make a pact to treat your body with respect, including eating well and not embarking on punishing exercise routines, fad diets or taking drugs.
Try to shift to a healthier focus on how your body functions and consider all your body helps you do in life, rather than just focusing on how your body looks.
Get informed by reading up on body image issues.
Develop reasons for exercising that are not focused on your body's appearance (such as stress release, vitality or improved concentration) rather than concentrating only on changing your body shape.
Limit social media use or adjust what comes into your feed to avoid negative social comparisons.
Remember that media portrayals of muscular bodies are often curated and unrealistic.
Be honest about your struggles with negative body image issues, and find safe places to talk about what you’re going through.
Create exercise and eating goals that emphasise overall health and wellness rather than appearance.
Help build body positivity by accepting your body and focusing on what you like about it.
Discussing what language and behaviours are acceptable and which are not within the team can ensure that all team members know what is expected. These discussions can help negate any unconscious objectification between players as it will draw their attention to the issues of objectification of bodies, especially among the members of the team.
Referenced Case Studies
The Effects of Objectification on Varsity Athletes: A Comparison of Its Consequences in Sports with Revealing and Non-Revealing Uniforms
The Role of Body Surveillance, Body Shame, and Body SelfConsciousness during Sexual Activities in Women's Sexual Experience
Gender differences in adolescent sport participation, teasing, self-objectification and body image concerns - Amy Slater*, Marika Tiggemann, School of Psychology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia
A MEDIATIONAL MODEL BODY SHAME, AND DISORDERED EATING LINKING SELF-OBJECTIFICATION, Stephanie M. Noll Duke University Barbara L. Fredrickson University of Michigan - Psychology of Wotiwrr @fnrterly, 22 (1998), 623-636. Printed in the United States of America.
The nullifying experience of self-objectification: The development and psychometric evaluation of the Self-Objectification Scale Author links open overlay panel AnatTalmonKarniGinzburg
Fredrickson, B. L., Roberts, T.-A., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 269–284. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1999