Does Society Affect How Athletes View Themselves?
Do Female Athletes Have An Uphill Fight?
Being a female athlete is a paradox in and of itself. While gender norms expect females to be delicate and submissive, the most successful athletes are typically strong, aggressive and dominant.
Years earlier in my journey as an athlete, there were many times where I felt as though my frame and stature was not cohesive to the expectations of femininity.
Within professional sports, female athletes are significantly underpaid in comparison to male athletes performing at the exact same level. And although females make up 40 percent of all sports participants, they receive only 4 percent of the media coverage, according to the Tucker Center for Research.
Sheer objectification of female athletes in the media is evident, as women often receive media attention centered around their physical appearance rather than their athletic prowess.
Yet, Sports Are Empowering and Build Confidence
All that being said, myself and other female athletes here at the University of Alabama say that our participation in sports has been empowering, despite the unique challenges that we face as female athletes.
Alexa Cruz, a cross country runner at UA said that overall, athletics can be both helpful and hurtful to one’s self-worth. “Through running, I’ve gained a strong sense of who I am and what I’m capable of doing. My sport has helped me believe in myself in all aspects of my life,” said Cruz, "Training has made me feel strong and confident in what I can push myself to do.”
According to ‘State of the Nation: Girls and Sport Quantitative Report’ girls who are involved in athletics report significantly higher levels of confidence and overall happiness than those who do not. Furthermore “61 percent of women who played sports said they had high body confidence, as opposed to 42 percent who didn’t play sports.”
Does It Matter What Our Bodies Look Like?
As a younger female athlete, I did not feel comfortable with my body. I am tall and always have had a muscular stature. For most of junior high and high school, I insisted on wearing long sleeves as much as possible, because I was ashamed of having “man arms” and did not feel that my appearance was feminine or attractive.
Upon entering college, my sense of self completely changed as I was surrounded by my teammates and other female athletes that were built similarly to me. Competing and being surrounded by my teammates gave me the utmost sense of confidence and pride.
Do Other Athletes Feel The Same Way?
Upon speaking with other female athletes at UA, I realized this journey was more common than I initially thought and transcended far beyond my own personal experience.
Alabama volleyball player Mahalia Swink said that her self-confidence has greatly increased throughout her years as an athlete. Swink mentioned that while growing up a strong female body type did not always seem ideal within society, however over the years that perception has completely changed.
“When I am competing, especially in front of a crowd of people I have to have a sense of confidence to make sure I am using my skill to the best of my ability.” said Swink, “Without this increase in confidence that I have had, I don’t believe that I would be as successful as I have been, or able to reach my full potential.”
Female athletes undergo a great deal of unnecessary pressure, as they are pushed to be the strongest and most physically dominant they can be, and also at times chastised and criticized by others for appearing “too strong,” or “too masculine.”
A great example of this is Serena Williams. She is one of the most decorated athletes of all times and has long been criticized for her “masculine” stature, and “aggressive” behavior.
Softball player Sarah Cornell (AU athlete) also noted a personal journey in regards to finding confidence, both physically and mentally. In high school, Cornell struggled with insecurity, “I still wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I would compare myself to other girls, I knew my body didn’t look like the other girls in my high school.”
However, after years of personal and athletic growth Cornell says, “I am a D1 softball player, and that’s exactly what I look like.”
Furthermore, Cornell noted that in the past her athletic performance and opinions of teammates started to dictate her self-worth in a negative way, but all that has changed over the years. “My mentality has improved so much from where I was. I’m so happy with where I am right now,” said Cornell.
It is important to note that the self-worth of an athlete must not be quantified simply by their athletic achievement. “When you begin to solely associate your worth with your athletic performance that’s when the problems start. It’s important to recognize that you’re an athlete but also so much more than the times, marks, or goals you achieve,” said Cruz.
While male athletes are praised for their strong statures and aggressive behaviors, strong female athletes face an entire different set of unspoken expectations. That being said, female athletes are continuing to surpass these expectations and grow stronger, despite the so-called limitations.