|Image 1: Photos of like this,|
showing athletic women,
during competition, or when
they train, unfortunately,
never make it to the magazine
covers, with their heavily
of male and female
Role models are more than just people we look up to...
I guess, the latter group was the one Elizabeth A. Daniels had in mind, when she came up with the hypothesis that their young female study participants (age 13-22y) would make different statements with regard to their own physical appearance and attractiveness, when they were confronted with photographs depicting women as (a) sexualized athletes, (b) performance athletes, and (c) sexualized models. To verify this hypothesis, the responses of the 258 adolescent girls (ages 13–18) and 171 college women (ages 18 –22) were assigned to an inductively (meaning based on the scientists interpretation of common motifs in the individual responses) established framework that was constructed around the following meta-themes, which refer to the physical attributes of the women in the photographs (who were, by the way, no celebrities), "her appearance and attractiveness, her athleticism", or the study participant's feelings about themselves, the women in the pictures and our society, in general (my body/looks, my feelings about her, and society), as well as the role and image of women, in particular.
Within this framework Daniels conducted a numerical (number of answers per theme in condition), as well as a qualitative (positive, neutral, negative for "her body", "physicality", in general, "self evaluation" and "my physical activity") analysis of the responses and derived a few interesting results.
|Figure 1: Relative frequency of positive, negative and neutral statement with regard to the physical appearance (her body) and athleticism (physicality) of the athletic women and models in the photographs in the three study conditions (data adapted from Daniels. 2012)|
Not feeling just as bad and that less often may not sound like much, but...
Of greater significance in view of the aforementioned influence the continuously influx of stereotypical images of the "ideal body" are yet the responses Daniels filed under positive, neutral or negative "self-evaluation", of which the presentation of photographs of athletic women elicited the least frequent (only 17.1% self-evaluating statements vs. 40% in the sexualized athletes and 53.8% in the sexualized models condition) and most beneficial (20% positive) self-evaluative comments (cf. figure 2).
|Figure 2: Relative frequency of statements reflecting positive, neutral or negative self-evaluation and positive, negative and neutral attitude towards the personal physical activity of the study participants in the three different study conditions (data adapted from Daniels. 2012)|
Moreover, the results of another recent study (Appleton. 2012), which demonstrate that engaging in regular physical activity, alone, exerts profound beneficial effects on the body images of both men and women, suggests that the huge beneficial impact the photographs of athletic women had on the girls' and women's attitudes towards their own physical activity (cf. figure 2), could in indirectly promote the self-esteem of the study participants by instigating or reinforcing their interest in physical activity.
Bottom line: Images of athletes can help you to get active and feel better about yourself!
And although I must admit that people may be more or less predisposed to succumb to the beauty ideals we are confronted with in the media on a daily basis, there is probably hardly anyone who could resist the profound influence they exert on how we think and feel of ourselves and others. Therefore, I strongly caution against the notion that the results of a study which involves only female subjects (age 13-22y) would be meaningless for older women and men of all age groups, who, despite being less willing to admit it, are by no means immune to the subtle messages of six-pack abs, bootylicious butts and unwrinkled skin of the mostly "photoshop-ed" (i.e. digitally enhanced) physique of those pristine specimen of the human race. The motto "Strong is the Better Sexy!" from the title of this blogpost has thusly the potential to become a mantra for everyone who wants to feel better about himself / herself - irrespective of sex or age.