Physical or Visual: How do Girls Experience their Bodies during Sports and Non-Sport Activities?
Abbott, B.D. and Barber, B.L. (2015) Physical or Visual: How do Girls Experience their Bodies during Sports and Non-Sport Activities? In: Society for Research in Child Development 2015 Biennial Meeting, 19-21 March, Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A..
Introduction: Body image is a major concern for many adolescents (Mission Australia, 2012; 2011; 2010; 2008), particularly for girls, who consistently report a more negative body image than males (Barker & Galambos, 2003; Cash, Fleming, Alindogan, Steadman, & Whitehead, 2002; Davison & McCabe, 2006; Furnham, Badman, & Sneade, 2002). Adolescent girls’ satisfaction with both their aesthetic and functional body dimensions has been found to decline during high school, at a rate that is greater than their male peers (Abbott, Barber & Dziurawiec, 2012). The experiences girls have with their bodies has the potential to influence the focus of their body perceptions. Therefore, exploring contexts that may foster positive body experiences among teenage girls is an integral step to improving their well-being.
Aims: The main aim of the current study was to examine the potential of the leisure context to elicit girls’ experiences of their physicality, specifically experiences of physical competence and body objectification. Both sports and non-sport activities were examined because each context has the potential to offer participants unique bodily experiences.
Method: Girls (N = 1002) aged 13-18 years (M = 14.6, SD = 1.01) from 34 high schools in Western Australia were surveyed regarding structured leisure participation (sports and non-sports), experiences of body objectification, experiences of physical competence, and Body Mass Index (BMI). The prevalence of girls’ experiences of body objectification and experiences of physical competence were compared between sporting and non-sporting leisure contexts. Differences in sport types were also explored by comparing the body experiences reported by girls during aesthetic and non-aesthetic sports. Both between group and within-person comparisons were made for sport types to address potential selection biases.
Results: Overall, girls reported having more experiences of physical competence than body objectification in both sport and non-sport activities. Sports were associated with a higher prevalence of body experiences across both body dimensions compared to non-sports. Bodily experiences differed between aesthetic and non-aesthetic sport types; but this difference varied across between-person and within-person analyses.
Conclusions: Sports activities appear to be a context where girls experience both the aesthetic and functional dimensions of their bodies. The current study makes a distinct contribution to the literature, because it uniquely compares the bodily experiences of adolescent girls during their participation in sports and non-sports, and further examines the sporting context by comparing aesthetic and non-aesthetic sport types. The results provide points of consideration for those aiming to examine the experiences adolescence gain through their organised leisure participation. It is suggested that future research into the benefits of structured leisure incorporate not only experiences that relate to positive development (such as identity, social skills, leadership skills), but also include body-related experiences in their investigations.
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