Q1 Do you feel under pressure to conform to a certain type of body image?
• Yes - 79.6%
• No – 20.4%
Answered question 108, skipped question 2
Q2 If yes, where does this pressure come from? (Choose all that apply)
• The media – 65.8%
• Social media – 41.8%
• Fellow athletes – 60.8%
• Human evolution – 24.1%
• Other (please provide details below) – 39.24%*
Answered question 79, skipped question 31
* Responses to ‘Other’ option
- Myself. Feeling that I do not deserve to call myself a professional athlete if I am not the owner of a stick thin body with visibly bulging muscles attached, zero body fat or gorgeous skin that isn't weathered from the elements!
- Previously it was from coaching staff.
- Coaches, nutritionist. Pressure you put on yourself to be the best that you can be.
- My national governing body and their sponsors. I feel like I need to be and look a certain way in order to have any opportunities with the media/commercial opportunities.
- Fashion/clothing shops. It is really depressing when the size you fit into seems to have a reflection of your fitness, e.g. plenty of world class sportswomen fit 14-16 dimensions due to body shape, yet this is touted as fat!
- My coach was very critical and bloody-minded about us athletes being the right weight but constantly changing the goal posts and judging what we had to eat. Unlike others who were strong enough to do what they wanted despite the coach’s attitude, I struggled, and even though I am now retired I still worry about my coach’s view of me.
- Myself and comparison to other athletes body shapes (intimidation and psychological battle).
- I'd say a bit of both - media and fellow athletes.
- General public.
- Desire to be the best athlete I can be, so a combination of myself and the environment I am in.
- Myself. I want to be in the best shape I can be for my sport.
- As a football player, for me to maintain a good level of fitness and ability, it is essential that my body reflects my hard work. Not because I have to but because I want to.
- Not just athletes, from myself - how I am expected to look as an athlete. It's hard to know where exactly this pressure within myself is rooted.
- Athlete sterotypes.
- Indirectly, from sponsors of teams and sport. More stereotypically attractive female athletes get more sponsorship and advertising opportunities. It seems to me that often the "worth" of a female athlete is based far more on how she looks than on her results in sport. Female athletes' appearance is also widely commented on, often either critically or with a sort of lecherous admiration. This barely ever happens to male top athletes, who are valued on their results and (sometimes!) personality and media relationship.
- Looking around me at others. Sport - needing to be a certain body type/shape. Needing to look a certain way in interviews/articles.
- Society in general and an expectation of what women should look like. From my national governing body in order to be used in media opportunities and from sponsors for the same reason. I feel like if I don't present myself in a certain way then I won't be used for media opportunities.
- Out of sports kit and away from a training facility I believe there is pressure from all areas of society.
- Society, governing body, sponsorship.
- Having a certain level of skinfolds by nutritionist etc.
- Friends, being an athlete in general.
- People think athletes have to look a certain way. So, if you are bigger than other players you feel you aren't doing something right.
- From everyone – it’s human nature to judge how someone looks.
- Coaches and trainers.
- And myself. I feel I need to be skinny to feel good about myself and not be self-conscious.
- BPA (British Paralympic Association) and NGB's (national governing bodies) when selecting athletes to present to media.
- I think youngsters feel huge pressure from each other. As a teacher and an athlete this is a very worrying trend.
Q3 Has the pressure to present a certain type of body image ever influenced your behaviour?
• Yes – 76.1%
• No – 23.9%
Answered question 109, skipped question 1
Q4 Is yes, in what way? (Choose all that apply)
• Diet – 86.6%
• Exercise regime/training – 70.7%
• Other (please provide details below) – 20.73%*
Answered question 82, skipped question 28.
* Responses to ‘Other’ option
- What I may choose to wear to public events in order to be perceived in a certain way and to gain respect from others.
- Meal choices in front of other people.
- Dieting the way I did to please the coach made me underperform in training on occasion, which in turn caused me more grief.
- I tried to control my eating to a point where I was making myself ill, not getting the right nutrients on board and the hunger caused me to binge.
- My diet and my exercise regime are solely for my sport. Putting too much time, effort and money into beauty such as make up, nails, tan etc.
- As an athlete, we have to think about what we eat a lot and sometimes reach target 'performance weights', so this has an impact on diet and training.
- Sometimes it has meant my diet no longer is optimum for performance but becomes optimum for looking slimmer/thinner....which isn't my body type.
- The most noticeable pressure is my appearance, in terms of hair, make-up and contact lenses. My disability means that this hard for me, so I actually pay a hair and make-up artist when I go to high profile events. I do enjoy looking good, but there is an element of pressure.
- In what I wear and how I choose to present myself.
- Which clothes I've worn.
- Behaviour to others.
- Mentally – it always effects how I perceive myself on a daily basis.
- Eating disorder.
- Exercise everyday. I love food but I don't eat naughty stuff as much as I used to. I've got a very good appetite. I have never dieted or starved myself. I just eat what I want but make sure I work it off after.
- Got upset a lot about it.
- Eating less and exercising more to get in shape.
- We can all make good choices but there is a pressure to have that perfect stomach! Some of us just don't have the genes to get it!
Q5 Do you think the public and media value the way a female athlete looks over her achievements in sport?
• Yes – 66.7%
• No – 33.3%
Answered question 108, skipped question 2.
Q6 Do you empathise with the feelings of insecurity as expressed by Rebecca Adlington?
• Yes – 89.1%
• No – 10.9%
Answered question 110, skipped question 0.
Q7 Do you think young women have a problem with body image, not just in sport but in wider society?
• Yes – 97.2%
• No – 2.8%
Answered question 109, skipped question 1.
Q8 If yes, what can we do about it?
Answered question 84, skipped question 26.
- The media plays a huge role. Featuring and following female athletes of all disciplines creates a wider and more honest portrayal of women of athletes for youngsters. When I feel unhappy or wish I was "skinny" I look to Lindsey Vonn...downhill ski racer. She is incredibly strong and built like a horse! She is a picture of a female athlete and encourages me to lift my weights proudly in the gym! Of course it is important for women to look like women, it is part of our charm and what differs us from men, but we need to show that being pretty, strong, healthy, attractive isn't down to your dress size. I think women in sport have to pave the way by looking attractive to sell the sport, but to be proudly strong, and show that being skinny or having straight teeth can sometime be a hindrance when it comes to getting the job done bloody well. It’s important to me to show young girls that sport can give them a confidence, a life appreciation that "exercise" cannot. Being outside, in the elements, pushing your body - with that comes lines, wrinkles, scars, and extra body fat to protect you when you crash!! Rachel Atherton. World Champion Downhill MountainBiker.
- Stop promoting a specific body type via the media.
- For me, educate coaches and the wider population so they are more aware of female hormone menstrual cycles and the changes of behaviour that can occur - reason being, it has been during these periods where female athletes either have been more sensitive and can misinterpret things being said. It seems to be the one off comments that are made that put the self doubt into women.
- Have more 'normal' girls on billboards, in magazines etc showing that not everyone is perfect! Also more exposure to individuals with a disability.
- Promote healthy active role models.
- I doubt anything can be done. It's too late. It has been instilled in everyone, everywhere. It would be at least 200 years before any change could come about. The modelling industry ACTUALLY using "normal" people. Not airbrushing people. Actually supporting women who are just good at what they do as opposed to those who have good looks or bodies. Given that women don’t even have anywhere near equal pay as men, there is no way that anything can be done about female looks. One stems from another. An endemic problem that will not change.
- Celebrate strength and fitness rather than image and clothing. Promote women from all sports, not just one or two attractive women from select sports which is what currently happens. Have a range of women broadcasting about sport, talking about fitness and health. Look at the way we educate our young women and the culture of PE in schools, which is not one of pushing young children to improve fitness. It is one of ticking a box of doing an hour of PE a week. We could teach girls to love the sport of fitness not just try and get them to do competitive sports.
- Bring up our children to respect women for being people. This starts at home but that can't be controlled so primary schools have a big role to play.
- Why don't we herald Rebecca Adlington as a beauty? Joanna Rowsell? Why does Jess get the Marie Claire covers? It seems to be open season. If a man isn't that attractive he just doesn't get put on covers/photo shoots. If a women isn't she is teased by comedians or made fun of via social media - as if it is part of the job description - how dare she not look gorgeous!!!
- Change the way females are presented in the media. Stop using sex appeal as a selling point.
- Advertise with women of natural shapes not sticks.
-I think the worse thing is the media’s disproportionate criticism of body image. A picture of a celeb with a red circle round the tiniest bit of muffin top or cellulite is just totally stupid. Obviously encouragement to be fit and healthy and live a good lifestyle is a great thought so having a good mixture of body types in the limelight is the way to go. Since I have retired I am still fit but I am over a stone heavier than I was when I stopped four months ago but so many people have said that I now look healthy. I was too thin before (but at that point I still had more fat than my coach really have wanted).
- I think the media have a major part to play here! They put unnaturally thin girls on the covers of magazines, adverts, everywhere you look there is a skinny girl! And everyone wants to look like them, but it's a fantasy! I know so many girls who have eating disorders because they can't handle the pressure to look a certain way, or because they want a stupid 'thigh gap'. It makes me so sad to see so many young teenage girls go through so much at such a young age. They also get pressure from boys which can be heartbreaking and lead to mental issues and disorders. I don't know the answer, but I think the media should be banned from using models under a size 10. It's not normal to be that skinny. So when people go on crazy 'cabbage soup' diets and lose weight, but not enough weight, they fall even deeper into despair and develop an eating disorder. They just want to be accepted and it breaks my heart!
- Take out airbrushed, too-skinny people in magazines, internet and TV and show girls what they really look like. Try to change the minds of young girls as to how they should or are expected to look and help them to understand that no-ones perfect and to love who they are..... it’s a task that is easily put on paper but very hard to put into practise...
- The media need to change and less airbrushing on models. Show real women of all sizes - thin & fat.
- Promote health over beauty - make children embrace a healthy lifestyle rather than worrying about the way they look and their weight. Too many young girls get a negative relationship with food from a young age and this can result in self esteem issues and for some, eating disorders in order to try and comply with what society seems to promote as what a woman's body should look like. We need to make all children, but especially girls, believe that their achievements in life will be valued and are valued more highly than their looks.
- Stop media from saying you have to look a certain way.
- Embrace all body types equally in the media. Write articles, promote confident women of different body shapes & sizes. Continue to empower & give women confidence.
- As a nation be more supportive of all body types and acknowledge that we come in all shapes and sizes. - Greater education to the public. - Use different 'models' (of all shapes and sizes) to demonstrate what is 'sexy' and model clothing. - Greater awareness of body image, self esteem and the links to mental health issues - Break out of the very rigid and narrow minded views of what females SHOULD look like and embrace women as they. - To allow women to embrace their shape and feel comfortable and respected enough to be proud of who they are, how they look regardless of shape or size. I think changing the culture of what is deemed appropriate in society and using a number of female body shapes as role models would help normalise this and hopefully in time prevent young girls and adolescents from feeling compelled to look a certain way.
- Increasing the media coverage on achievements of female athletes altogether & changing the media slant away from female image to competition. This has been better more recently e.g. Cycling successes of the females.
- Continue to present and praise 'normal' body types so that women don't feel insecure about themselves as the women we see in magazines can easily intimidate us.
- Promote the achievements of women rather than their physical attributes. I believe sportswomen in general do this, but it will take a long time for it to influence mainstream society.
- Stop photo shopping athletes and writing articles about their figures.
- Women are still first judged on their physical appearance before their talent, personality and achievements.
- I feel the media make women feel insecure if they don't look a certain way so should start with them.
- I think it's a real hard issue to resolve. You can't change everyone's outlook, Perception, opinion, there will always be small minded people.
- Have 'normal' size women in the media, also different role models too!
- I can't see it changing. It would need a change in media, advertising. People (both men and women) should stop being so judgemental of each other.
- The media needs to encourage athletic looking bodies rather than skinny, model looking bodies. The key isn't going on crazy diets or working out for 4 hours a day but just being healthy. To be an athlete you don't need to have fully toned muscles, you just need to be healthy. The younger generations need to feel like they are perfect the way they are rather than having to live up to a certain body type.
- Celebrate women for their success not their looks.
- If we are looking at using athletes as examples, we have to show athletes in kit, performing and being proud about what they do, not always in glamour shots and nice dresses. We need to show our young people that we are all beautiful no matter about size or shape, playing sport or not playing sport. It’s so important that it is not just one type of figure or sport that is shown in the media but there is a cross section for young people to look up to. We have to stop just showing size zero models. My sister had an eating disorder for 12 years, it’s tragic and so many young people suffer and I believe this is partly due to what people perceive as 'beautiful', because of what we see in the media. Use athletes who are healthy, all different shapes and sizes and proud about how they look.
Encourage young women that beauty and strength come from within. Encourage the publication of "real" women in beauty and sport magazines.
- Focus on diet and stop people thinking that they need to be super skinny.
- Ban the media from publishing certain things and stop celebrities letting media use their bodies as "perfect examples" as this will make young people feel like they have to look a certain way! Young people shouldn't have that kind of pressure put on them by themselves or others. They should just be advised and educated about what is healthy and unhealthy instead of them feeling insecure and forced. People should be judged on their achievements rather than their looks and body!
- Tighter government regulations on advertising, and more accountability for print media. I was disgusted by the article the Daily Mail printed by John Shaw "SPOTY girls can't shine like Amy" - there are rules against materials that incite hate. Young girls also need to have educational tools to promote health and well being. Keep physical education for girls a priority. Teach them how to eat properly, and teach them how to cook in school.
- Promote sport, health & our great female athletes more! Also as athletes we have a duty to be proud of the 'tools' we had to ply our trade & that could be strong legs, big shoulders, abs, biceps, etc. I wear my permanent 'swimmer's shoulders' as a badge of honour! I'm bloody proud of them! NB. there is a big difference between being expected to look pretty & be successful as a female athlete which i think is common, but I'm not sure I agree that athletes are expected to look skinny. Ugly successful male athletes get endorsements, successful female athletes have to be stunning too! Rebecca has taken a lot of vile abuse for how she looks, not how her body is. Body image is different, I don't empathise with Rebecca on this. In my experience the media & public respect athletic physiques on female athletes. In general though the role models toady are thin 'celebrities' from reality TV shows rather than amazing women who have achieved something special, it's a shame.
- Change societal norms on gender appearance. Teach young girls confidence. Teach young girls coping mechanisms.52
Ignore the myths and ideologies that the media present in the magazines, adverts and in TV
- Judge an athlete on form not figure. Sexualisation of the female athlete is rife in the media and often they focus on image rather that athlete ability.
- I think if people know they're not alone in how they feel they'll be more confident to talk about it.
- The media have to portray a more positive image with all sizes not just smaller sizes.
- Stop putting 'typically' beautiful women on adverts. Pick some ‘less pretty’ but pertinent women for some roles and media adverts
Banning airbrushing in magazines and promote healthier images of women in the media.
- Within the media we need to show females’ sporting achievements not just what they look like. Could start at schools educating young people about the subject.
- Stop putting pressure on body image and the perfect body in the media, so much focus on body image shows no reflection on the individual themselves.
- It will always be something that will never go away completely. But could be helped by using the right role models with regards to how they look and act.
- Same problems occur whether in sport or not. If someone very successful in their field and with Rebecca's looks had gone into the jungle they would be treated the same. All those programmes are based on looks and outrageous behaviour. She should never have gone on if she has such an image problem. While she is trying to make a second career for herself - it is not in the media because people will always comment on how she looks above what she can do. It is sad but true, and although I wish otherwise, the same applies to all walks of life and not just sport.
- There have been examples when well known sports commentators feel justified in remarking on how top female athletes look. They seem to get away with these comments. When supposed "experts" in the sport get away with this behaviour it sets a bad example. I think body image in sport is an issue that affects both genders. I just think that the line between performance and looks is more blurred for women and the BBC could set a better example by publicly reprimanding it's employees who come out with sexist remarks.
- Stop hiring models who are a size 0 to model clothes.
- Have more role models and models generally showing different body types and different looks in the media. My disability also has a part to play in how I look. I feel like I have to over compensate to look good, to prove that just because I have Cerebral Palsy it doesn't mean that I'm not "attractive" or can't fit in.
- Encourage greater representation of more "normal" bodies of all shapes and sizes in the media. Rules against photoshopping of model images - or the requirement that such images carry a warning label (like cigarettes!), eg: WARNING: This image has been photoshopped and may damage your body image!
- Action is needed on a number of fronts - by the individual and their actions, the media, the government (especially through the education system), companies (e.g.. how they market products), organisations that support sufferers, teachers, coaches, sports agents and so forth. It is part of a wider cultural problem that goes much deeper than sport. It is the very subtle use of language and imagery. It affects men, as well as women, but maybe not to such a great extent (note that different areas of the world/cultures celebrate different body types). It will be important to ensure that women/girls value themselves for all their qualities, this needs to start from a very young age, e.g. not attaching a visual compliment to girls, and a physical one to boys - 'telling girls they look pretty', not commenting in daily life about weight/image over other aspects of character/personality and by deploying a variety of images in media and marketing that celebrate a range of body types. Further ideas include promoting all body images in all areas of life; changing the general culture which can value image over achievement; considering regulation regarding use of, and advertising of, diet 'supplements’; give support to women (and men) who are at risk or who are suffering from body image issues in all areas of life (recognition of signs and symptoms and overcoming the problem). Educating those who work with athletes (coaches, managers etc) is key. Magazines should be encouraged to report on issues that promote health and wellbeing rather than weight using role models. Get celebrities to speak honestly about issues relating to body image.
- Don't know really
- I think that the media need to change their idea of the 'ideal image'. Size 0 doesn't look good, I think a healthy lifestyle needs to be promoted and we need to show that curvy women are sexy and gorgeous! Get celebrities to endorse it.
- See more "real" women portrayed in the media, covers of magazines, modelling clothes etc and less airbrushing.
- Better education as teenagers
- Show young women it is not all about looking good, it is about doing things that make you happy and you get something out of. Nobody is the same and you should be proud of how you are different rather than trying hard to fit in.
- More information and exposure of less good looking female athletes.
- Stop airbrushing models in magazines and media and portraying "perfect woman images" that girls then idolise and feel insecure as to their differences.
- It's mostly media driven. Role models are made of WAGs and reality TV characters from programmes such as "The Only Way Is Essex". It's all based on how to act and look a certain way. There is no celebration of achievement or hard work, commitment.
- This goes completely beyond sport and just body image. This is to do with how women are viewed in society full stop. In life we need to teach our children that women can be strong and this can clearly be seen in sport. Gender stereotypes need to be obliterated and it needs to start in primary schools. Unfortunately it'll probably take a couple of generations to get somewhere near equality.
- Health, exercise and mental well-being should be part and parcel of education from a very early age. A variety of role models need to be available and accessible for young girls to look up to. But inevitably the role models we all look up to as young girls are our mother or mothers, female guardian or other female family member or close friend. Societal change on perception of gender, body image etc is absolutely possible but will take time.
- Women should be viewed as men are in society - for their talents, character and personality. Media plays a he role in this but it will take generations of exposure of such inequalities to create change.
- No just use prettier girls for sports ads.
- Lower the amount of unnatural beauty in media and cosmetic advertising. Show more people in natural lights in media...magazines, adverts etc.
- Reduce the amount of unnatural girls in the media (cosmetic surgery/loads of make up). Need to display natural women.
- Magazines and other media need to take more responsibility for how and what they project to be a so called nice body. Being as skinny as some celebrities are isn't healthy or natural.
- Educate girls about how being strong is the new skinny.
- Stop printing pictures of celebrities who are "overweight".
- Provide role models of different body shapes who are successful in both sport and other areas.
- Use successful women in sport as role models. Not just blonde skinny, size zero types. Try to change body image perception by using all sports and all successful women (weightlifters, bob skeleton etc, tall volleyball player, small gymnasts). Able body and disabled too.
- Muscle causes you to look a much bigger person than really are but at the end of the day you just need to be confident in yourself and want to do the best you can at your sport and believe in yourself enough to ignore others as it is a form of bullying. Need to educate the bullies and educate the non-sporting people and also the women that have eating disorders because they are so body-conscious. This needs to start very early on in schools.
- COMMUNICATE...Be open and honest about the pressures, educate about healthy vs extreme regimes, encourage discussion among young athletes/ young people in general when they feel pressure and not to over react to the pressure.
- Positive role models like Rebecca Adlington. Using sports ladies in the media (especially in sports/health/fitness mags), essentially playing the fashion ideals at their own game - aesthetics to pave the way for the ideal - achievement
- Promote healthy living and exercise.
- Celebrate and publicise based on achievements and personality.
- Stop portraying a certain look that girls think they need to look like. As long as they eat and live healthy that's what's important. More celebs need to be spreading this message.
- Support females more and be more sensitive about how we speak to younger girls that need to get more athletic not skinny!!
Stop promoting the ideal body image. Everywhere you turn there is something to do with body image with that being on magazine covers or TV. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a great role model.
- Saying that it doesn't matter what body type you are, it doesn't matter. Society doesn't care, it's only in people's heads that they think their overweight. Just post Rebecca's words everywhere. Spreading the words.
- Not talk about body image, then maybe people will forget about it. The public need to learn to just shrug things off and not be offended by comments about looks. Everyone is different so we should just accept it.
- Women athletes know they have to work hard on their image for looks and for confidence levels when competing as well as physical reasons.
- It's very complex and requires education to all of society as a whole, but media drives the problem.
- Keep portraying positive role models for our youngsters. Stress the importance of good choices for health and wellbeing....not simply 'good body'. Crash diets etc are not the answer to a healthy future.
BT Sport’s body image survey was sent out to elite female athletes, para-athletes and those just retired from swimming, football, cycling, tennis, golf, athletics, snow sports, cricket, equestrian, triathlon, hockey, rugby, volleyball, badminton, boxing, canoe, basketball, rowing, gymnastics and weightlifting. Results are based on responses from 110 athletes from across those sports. The survey was conducted anonymously, although some athletes chose to put their answers on record. Some participants chose not to answer all of the questions, with percentages shown based on responses received.
By Sue Mott and Rachel Griffiths.