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Enhancing Body Acceptance Among Female Athletes

Enhancing Body Acceptance Among Female Endurance Athletes Run Tri Bike Magazine JoAnne Bullard

Take a moment to consider how you’d describe the characteristics of a female endurance athlete. Some adjectives might include: fast, resilient, strong, motivated, confident, and mentally tough. Now, think about how you’d describe your characteristics as a female endurance athlete. Are the adjectives similar or different? Keep this in mind as you continue reading this article about enhancing body acceptance among female athletes.

Female athletes push their bodies to extremes every day. Many are balancing the demands of home, life, work, and school with their training schedules. Some are coming back from just having a baby. Others might be returning from injury or surgery. For some, they might be trying a new sport for the first time. The reason many start the sport is unique but brings everyone together in such a supportive community. The benefits of training for an endurance event positively impact the physical and mental health of every athlete. The ability of the body and mind to push forward when under time restraints, balancing needs, and multiple stressors shows the dedication and perseverance of these athletes to achieve goals on an advanced level.

Additional pressures may be experienced by female athletes, which could impact their performance and mental well-being. Examples are body image and body acceptance, in which many female athletes struggle. Many factors explain why an athlete might be highly self-conscious of their body and appearance. Some examples could be the culture of the sport, stereotypes, media and social media, and the self-perception of an athlete. Those struggling with body image and body acceptance might have a love-hate relationship with their bodies. This imbalance could cause the athlete to experience feelings of being an athlete and feeling like an impostor or that they don’t fit the mold of a “typical” athlete in their sport.

As athletes experience body image and body acceptance issues, it is essential to understand its impact on their overall well-being. Negative self-talk, altered self-perception, and diminished self-confidence could result in athletes holding themselves back from achieving their true potential. If an athlete feels self-conscious or doesn’t fit a specific body type, that could result in hesitation, impacting their abilities in their chosen sport.

Understanding your relationship with your body is necessary to make the required adjustments to enhance self-awareness and regulation. If you’re an athlete that has experienced this, it is essential to discover where the issue stemmed from:

  • Does it just reside within yourself?  
  • Are you holding yourself to a certain standard?  
  • Has someone commented on your physique?  
  • Is there an image being portrayed in the media that you’d like to achieve?
  • How much of your relationship to sport is dependent on your body image and acceptance?

So what should you do if you struggle with body image and body acceptance? First, recognize that you are not the only female athlete going through this feeling. It can impact female athletes of all ages, stages of development, and athletic experience. Second, understand that the main element to work on is enhancing your self-awareness and self-compassion. 

4 Healthy Coping Mechanisms

  1. Recognize the strength of your body.  Your body is powerful and strong. Your body can carry you physically through training sessions that you never once imagined you’d be capable of completing. Quiet the voices in your mind that are telling you otherwise. Take the time each day, and especially after each training session, to thank your body for providing you with the ability to succeed and complete the session. Strength is a beautiful feature of an athlete and comes in many shapes and sizes! 
  2. Accept yourself with grace. It might be easier for many to put ourselves down or have a negative take on how we fit into the physique portrayed through the media. Take the time to recognize the beauty of your body. Understand that there is no “perfect” body for a female athlete to possess. You were given your body for a reason….we can thank our genes! Learn how to make peace with the aspects of your body you struggle with accepting.
  3. Flip the self-talk switch.  Negative self-talk patterns can derail the motivation and confidence of an athlete. Start to notice when you hear this creep in to enhance self-awareness. Implement the STOP technique. When you hear yourself speaking negatively, stop what you are doing. Take three deep breaths. Observe how you are feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. Finally, proceed with what you were doing. It sounds like a simple strategy, but it is highly effective if utilized over time.
  4. Filter the information. Athletes need to be able to filter the information they receive. This element of control is crucial, especially with how fast news and social media travel! Some information or social media posts are valuable, leading to positive emotions and experiences. When you notice that you are feeling down, struggling to understand your purpose as an athlete, or comparing yourself to others, that information is notnecessary for your life. You are the only one who can determine what information is suitable. Surround yourself with items that lift you up instead of dragging you down!

As you continue your journey as an endurance athlete, remember that you are unique. Your body provides you with the capacity to endure the demands of your sport. The first step to enhancing your body acceptance is to become self-aware through monitoring your thoughts and emotional responses. Reach out to your support system for help when needed and most importantly, understand that you are not alone!  Never stop developing your strong mind and strong body!

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Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured assistant professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.