Written by Isabella Pallotto ‘19
Athletes receive more critical comments about their body than non-athletes since their bodies’ shape and weight are seen as a factor in sport performance (Muscat & Long, 2008). Additionally, athletes will receive critical comments from more sources than non-athletes. Non-athletes typically hear body criticism from parents, friends, and significant others while athletes receive body criticism from these three groups as well as from teammates, coaches, and judges/referees. Women who base their self-esteem on their appearance are more sensitive to critical comments made about their bodies and may develop an eating disorder in response to the criticism (Bardone-Cone, 2017). This response is important to study in female athletes since they receive the most critical comments and are already at a high risk for eating disorders from other sport factors (Muscat & Long, 2008; Sundgot-Borgen, 1994).
In 2008, Muscat and Long investigated how critical comments affect disordered eating in female athletes. Canadian university athletes from a variety of sports and competition levels (club, varsity, etc.) were recruited for the study. Researchers asked the athletes if they remembered receiving a critical comment about their body shape or weight. Athletes who responded yes were asked who made the comment, how well they remembered the comment, how they felt about the comment, and how seriously the comment affected any behavior change.
Overall, 58% of the women reported remembering a critical comment about their body shape or weight. The majority of the critical comments were from family members, but many athletes reported receiving critical comments from friends and coaches. Most of the participants reported that the comment had a lot of impact on their behavior and attitudes toward their body and led to self-consciousness about their weight and shape. The athletes who had received a critical comment about their bodies had significantly higher levels of disordered eating than athletes who had not received a critical comment. Results from this study demonstrate that athletes are very affected by critical comments made about their bodies.
- Focus on teaching athletes skills related to the sport rather than focusing on things that are inherent to the athlete
- Support appropriate nutrition and weight management practices by having nutritionists and athletic trainers speak with the team
- Encourage a balanced diet, adequate rest and recovery, and safe amounts of training
- The athlete’s health is more important than their sport performance
- Encourage balanced lifestyles for your athlete. A comprehensive diet, appropriate exercise, enough rest, and time for non-athletic activities.
- Develop self-esteem in your child not related to their appearance. Compliment their intelligence, work ethic, and skill
- If you are concerned about your child’s weight or eating practices contact a medical professional such as a dietician, psychologist, or your primary care provider.
Teammates and Friends
- Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Be proud and supportive of your friends’ accomplishments
- When sharing a meal or snacks, balance healthy foods with unhealthier foods. Popcorn, fruit, and candy are great balanced snacks for movie nights!
- Stand up for your teammates/friends if you hear them receive a critical comment from an adult or peer. Establish a supportive team/friend group culture