woman doing sports outdoor

When it comes to women, girls, and body image issues, could it really be as simple as playing more sport?

Function, not form?

Writing at The Conversation today, Murdoch University researcher Bree Abbott says studies show that when girls view their body through a functional lens, they’re more likely to be satisfied with an appreciate their body.

“They also report feeling more empowered and physically capable,” she says.

Think about the times in your life when you have achieved a physical goal – were you marveling at what your machine-like body could achieve, or were you thinking about how you looked?

Writes Abbott: “In childhood, both girls and boys focus on what their bodies can do: jump high, run fast, climb trees. But as bodies develop, girls tend to lose this relationship with their bodies, and their focus moves from function to form.

“It’s this focus on appearance that results in negative body evaluations.

“To understand why girls begin to focus on appearance over functionality, we need only observe the body ideals of Western culture. Males’ ideal body is often associated with functional qualities or characteristics such as muscularity and strength. Females, however, tend to focus on the aesthetic qualities of the body, particularly appearance and weight.”

adorable girl preparing to jump into kid trampoline

This is when girls start to view their bodies as an object to be evaluated rather than a tool to achieve great physical feats. Or even little ones.

The barrier, says Abbott, is often in the way girls perceive sport: they report feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable about their bodies, lack confidence about their abilities, and report feeling unfeminine participating in sports.

“Parents and coaches can play an important role to encourage girls’ participation in physical activity. First, the body needs to be taken off ‘display’ so that judgements aren’t being based upon appearance,” Abbott writes.

“When discussing the body with young people, highlight the functional aspects rather than the aesthetic ones, and identify the body as a vehicle that has the capacity to offer them some remarkable experiences.”

A lot of adolescent psychologists say that the way to keep boys out of trouble is to keep them busy and tired with loads of sport during their adolescent years when the hormonal soup takes over their bodies.

Would encouraging girls to play more sport – and therefore appreciate what their body can do instead of how it can look – help with the unrelenting body image issues that affect girls?

Did you play a lot of sport as an adolescent, and do you think it made any contribution to your body image issues… or lack there-of?

What remarkable experiences has your body given you, functionally speaking?


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