Female Athletes And Body Image

by SwimSwam Contributors 4

December 06th, 2016 Lifestyle

Courtesy of and written by Laura Quilter. New Zealand representative swimmer and lifesaver with an affinity for writing. Hoping to take what she has learned to inspire the next generation of swimmers. 

Laura Quilter

Laura Quilter

Female athletes will often experience an internal war between athletic ambition and a desire to ‘fit’.

Not only do their coaches, competition, peers and potential partners judge their exterior, but they are subject to testing which tells them EXACTLY how big, how lean or how fit they are.

Swimming, for example, exposes athletes every day. Swimwear doesn’t hide a changing body. Whether it’s puberty or a few new season pounds, almost every inch is displayed poolside.

I am a swimmer. I know what this feels like.

In the past, what made me feel invincible on a Monday was the exact same thing that made me feel undesirable on a Saturday.

It was like mental whip-lash.

Lifting weights in the gym and seeing the improvement in muscle size and tone is incredibly satisfying. I’d lie on the bench, flooded with pride as I pushed a new best weight above my chest. Smashing my own barriers was like banking coins of confidence.

But what happened when my 18 year old self chose to go out on a Saturday night?

Those same muscles which gave me a shiny coin of confidence gutted my bank of self-esteem when I stepped in to a bustling bar.

Strong shoulders stopped feeling so beautiful.

My younger self, the one desperate for connection and pining for praise, couldn’t help but compare herself to the statuesque women with designer dresses and slender arms.

My brain whipped between pride and shame. The same muscles that allowed me to contest events with the best in the nation felt masculine and unattractive when surrounded by non-athletes.

It was a mental battlefield. A war waged between wanting to be the best athlete I could and wanting to meet stereotypes of beauty. Wanting to get stronger and wanting to fit fashionable clothes.

It has taken years, a foundation of positive influencers and constant self-chat to cultivate a sense of pride for my athletic body, to disregard the gnawing gremlin that said I ate too much for a normal girl.

That said I shouldn’t push that heavier rep because I didn’t want to ‘get huge’.

That said I wouldn’t find a boyfriend because I had big shoulders.

Self-confidence and a positive body image is something that requires investment. It will always fluctuate, just like a bank account, but if you invest enough time and effort, you will never be bankrupt when it comes to your own confidence.

Tips for cultivating confidence:

  • Clean up your digital diet by removing social accounts which could impact your self esteem (scrolling through 1000’s of images of bikini clad ladies may be doing more harm than good)

  • Positive self-affirmations. yea yea… these can be a little cheesy and hard to ingrain, but a simple few words a couple of times a day can make a substantial difference!

  • Stop weighing yourself (Unless you specifically need to for your sport. Pair weight testing with another form of physical testing to ensure that a heavier weight may be the result of added muscle, not fat)

  • Talk. Call a close friend or family member and let them know how you feel. Sports psychologists are great for helping to deal with stresses regarding your body and self worth. The brain needs training too!

Any comments or question, please comment below or get in contact! I’d love to hear your feedback.

Courtesy and written by Laura Quilter. Click her for her blog post on this.

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Coach Graham
4 years ago

Excellent article! Something that needs more discussion and more education. I applaud your courage in writing this and putting yourself out there to spread a positive message. Keep up the great work.

Reply to  Coach Graham
4 years ago

Thank you for your kind words! And I completely agree- building confidence and self-assurity is just as important as building muscle.

Bogdan VLADU
4 years ago

We mostly judge ourselves down not up… That being said, I believe swimmers have the most beautiful bodies. So, the judge is not you but others…. though I would recommend not relying on other people’s evaluations either…. Consider your accomplishments for best input and also close family… they are our support system

3 years ago

Those guys are probably just scared that a girl can lift more than they can