Female athlete in training

Event tackles body image in female athletes


Bond University is hosting a seminar and panel discussion tonight to investigate the way body image and performance requirements can affect female athletes.

Female athlete in training
Bond University’s Exercise and Sport Science Seminar will look at the way female athletes are affected by body image struggles. Photo: Courtesy Bond University


The Female Athlete Body Image and Performance seminar will focus in particular on the development of eating disorders and their impact on performance potential, examining low energy availability, and how different female athletes respond to differing diets and exercise.

The seminar is hosted by Bond University Exercise and Sports Science Assistant Professors Judith Griffiths and Anna Larimer.

The seminar will discuss unhealthy eating habits and issues with negative body image that can lead to disordered eating, and ultimately to a decrease in performance potential.

It will be followed by a panel discussion with women from specific weight-restricted sports, including AFLW and rowing.

Assistant Professor Griffiths, who is also a psychologist, said the seminar and panel discussion would focus in particular on the psychology of body image as well as the related issues of disordered eating, in particular Anorexia athletica, and the relatively common issue among female athlete of energy deficiency.

“We have chosen to focus on female athletes and acknowledge that there are also some similar sport-related issues in male athletes [is sports] like diving and horse racing, and some different body image issues that affect male athletes more than female, for example bigorexia [or muscle dysmorphia],” she said.

Dr Griffiths said unlike body image issues in general society that were heavily influenced by social media, body image issues within the sporting industry were more likely to result from comparison with other athletes within the field.

“Much of the pressure to conform to a particular body shape and size is more likely to be driven more from within the sport itself,” she said.

“This pressure may come from comparison with other females and, to a lesser degree, male athletes, in the same sport.”

“They can range from comments and explicit statements made by parents, coaches, judges and trainers, especially in sports that have an aesthetic value, [such as] figure skating or gymnastics.”

Personal trainer Chloe Bromage
Personal trainer Chloe Bromage believes not prioritising diet and mental wellbeing can affect an athlete’s performance. Photo: Jade McGarry


Dr Griffiths said the seminar would also look at the different public perceptions about athletes, and how they differ between females and males.

“If you compare the difference in the media coverage between athlete and non-athlete, the sport media focus is less explicit on body shape and size, and focused more on strength and performance in sport media,” she said.

Dr Griffiths said the seminar was also looking to open up the topic of disordered eating, which is a variety of abnormal eating behaviours that do not on their own warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.

These behaviours can include compulsive eating, binge eating, restrained eating, self-induced vomiting, using diet pills and irregular eating patterns.

The seminar was also intended to provide a deeper level of understanding of the potential threats that weight restricted sports could have on body image.

Personal trainer Judith Griffiths said not prioritising diet and mental wellbeing would affect an athlete’s ability to gain and maintain optimum performance results.

“Your whole body can shut down, you literally cannot function if you are not eating correctly, it will affect your hormones, your mental health, everything,” Ms Bromage said.

“In terms of females, the likelihood of an ‘obsession’ forming is more often than with males, they are more willing to give up food and really submit to that obsession,” she said.

The seminar will take place on Tuesday, 20 August 2019 from 6.30pm to 7.30pm at Level 1, Bond Institute of Health and Sport.

Register online at bond.edu.au/events.

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