What Is the Connection between Sports and Body Image?

B. Miller

The connection between sports and body image can be either positive or negative. Some people find that becoming involved in sports allows them to feel better about themselves; more physically fit and more coordinated, for example. Others find a more detrimental connection between sports and body image, and find that the pressure to look a certain way becomes overwhelming and can lead to excessive exercise or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. It is important for parents of kids involved in sports to keep an eye on their behavior and eating habits to be sure the desire to be athletic and fit is not taken to an extreme.

The level of play children get when involved in sports can greatly affect their body image.
The level of play children get when involved in sports can greatly affect their body image.

Many people do find that the connection between sports and body image is a positive one, however. People who may have felt insecure before, or were overweight, may find that participating in sports helps to increase their physical ability as well as promoting weight loss and overall health. Becoming part of a team is another way to boost self esteem. As an individual's skills at playing a certain sport improve, this can also lead to improved body image perceptions as well. It can even improve posture and coordination in everyday life, which tends to make people feel better about themselves as well.

Children who play in team sports can develop a sense of body image at a young age.
Children who play in team sports can develop a sense of body image at a young age.

When the connection between sports and body image is discussed, however, negative aspects are often focused on. Athletes of all ages, but particularly younger athletes or those who really want to make a career out of a certain sport, will often become intensely dedicated to getting the "perfect" body for a certain sport. This may involve practicing the sport all the time, exercising for hours every day, and eating an extremely limited diet. An individual so focused on this may become obsessed, and can develop a body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder; others may turn to performance enhancing drugs, which are illegal and very dangerous.

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Performance enhancing drugs.
Performance enhancing drugs.

This negative connection between sports and body image is not limited to men or women. Both may feel as if they are not thin enough or muscular enough for participating in a certain sport; some may also feel as if they are too thin. The desire to be perfect is not uncommon, and is a frequent source of stress and serious problems with individuals participating in sports. It is certainly something to be aware of among parents or friends of individuals wanting to look a certain way for a particular sport or activity.

Playing full-contact sports can lead to injuries that may affect a person's body image.
Playing full-contact sports can lead to injuries that may affect a person's body image.
Many people find that a positive link exists between sports and body image.
Many people find that a positive link exists between sports and body image.

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