Cheerleaders Negative Body Image

So if  60-something years of research into the futility of dieting isn’t enough to convince anyone that fighting against our wise bodies is a dumb thing to do, there’s now some interesting findings from as assistant professor of athletic training at the University of South Carolina.

The team took a look at cheerleaders and their body image. My only exposure to the sport of cheerleading has been through the movies as it’s not a big part of life in Aus (well except for the growth of the various football codes’ cheersquads in recent years), but those movies have impressed me with how athletic the activity is, which is why I’ve called it a sport.

Co-incidentally, there was a piece on an early evening ABC TC show last night about cheerleading in Australia. The activity started in the US in the late 1890s with male gridiron fans cheering on their teams, and it was exclusively a male activity. With the army’s need for soldiers in WW2, females started cheerleading and it’s gone on from there.

I was interested to see the almost floor-length skirts the early cheerleaders used, not practical for the athleticism of the sport. The piece on TV had girls and boys in shorts and t-shirts, perfect gear for the activity.

What this study has found isn’t really surprising though – young women who participate in cheerleading are at high risk for eating disorders and negative body image.

And the more revealing their uniforms are, the more likely the women are to have negative body image problems. So the more skin the cheerleaders’ uniforms show, the worse the women feel about their bodies. Could it be, I wonder, that they feel vulnerable about showing so much skin? Or is it simply that they have fallen prey to the cult of perfection in our culture?

Anyone who works in the field of body image understands that the pressure on women to be thin and sexy is pretty much relentless. It’s no surprise then that in a sport that requires women to project a sexy image, women will restrict their food intake, over-exercise, and feel like they’re not attractive enough anyway.

Kind of negates one of the most powerful reasons for moving your body – that of feeling good in your own skin.

I also wonder how influential the group behaviour is – I know that we’re all connected energetically, and most connected to those persons we spend the most time with.

Diet culture has been one of the ways that women bond with one another, and in groups like cheerleader squads I would imagine the pressure to conform to a weight and size requirement would be pretty potent.

The study recommends that the coaches of the cheerleader squads be mindful of the design of the uniforms, and also implement strategies to help boost the girls’ self-esteem. It occurs to me though that, if the coaches are women then like most adult women, the coaches might need to do some work on their own body image first. Vicious circle isn’t it?

You can read more about the study here.

5 Comments

  1. shimnic on August 22, 2010 at 4:11 am

    I would like to exchange links with your site howtoloveyourbody.com
    Is this possible?

    • Sandy on August 24, 2010 at 8:13 pm

      Shimnick, sure is possible, but as your site is about foreign exchange and not body image, it’s completely not relevant so I’ll say no thanks.

  2. britt1 on October 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    The skimpier the outfit the more negative body image huh? So in some way it maybe just natural shame of our bodies.

    • Sandy on October 5, 2010 at 4:14 am

      Hmmm no I don’t think so – I think it’s more that to WEAR the skimpy outfit, there is tremendous pressure to be really thin…. and if you’re not really thin, then the pressure is heavier. Also, in our culture being naked brings with it a feeling of intense vulnerability – so it’s a combination of things I think, but I’m not sure that natural shame is so much present for most people? I think we learn that as we get older, and we’re taught to be ashamed of our normal female bodies.

  3. britt1 on October 5, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Ok yes didn`t think of it that way. So our culture equates nakedness with vulnerability. I never heard it put that way.I would think in some ways showing skin is trying to be confident. See I can wear this outfit or that outfit etc.The person who does it later realizes that it is a false confidence

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