21 January 2020

Survey reveals body image insecurities are rife in women’s sport

January 17, 2014

A survey conducted by BT Sport has delivered shocking confirmation that body image issues are currently an increasing and worrying problem within women’s sport.


It began with  four-time Olympic medalist and World Champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s tearful admission on the reality show ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here’ late last year. “It’s making me very, very insecure that I have to look a certain way.

“For me, I was an athlete, I wasn’t trying to be a model, but pretty much every single week on Twitter I get somebody commenting on the way I look,” she said.

It was a brief breakdown, but it may have longer repercussions, not for Adlington herself but for British sport and the way it does – or does not – shield its female athletes from the pressures of conforming to a fantastical and narrow conception of acceptability; “Stick thin, big boobs and a pretty face,” as Adlington puts it.

So in the wake of the show, BT Sport launched a survey to 110 elite athletes from 20 different sports to continue the debate and the results were overwhelmingly, with the media, social media, sports officials, coaches and fellow athletes being named among the influences imposing a perceived and unrealistic pressure on British sportswomen.

Of the athletes that responded, 80% stated that they felt pressure to conform to a certain look and body type, and further to that, 89% said that they empathised with the feelings of insecurity expressed by Adlington in her emotional outburst on the reality show.

What’s more, an overwhelming number felt these issues were not just confined to sport, with 97% saying the problem stretched to women in wider society.

What are your thoughts on the topic? We’d love to know, get in touch, email editorial@sportsister.com or join the conversation on Twitter @Sportsister.

For more info on the survey visit the BT Sport website: sport.bt.com/womeninsport

BT Sport’s body image survey was sent out to elite female athletes, para-athletes and those just retired from swimming, football, cycling, tennis, golf, athletics, snow sports, cricket, equestrian, triathlon, hockey, rugby, volleyball, badminton, boxing, canoe, basketball, rowing, gymnastics and weightlifting.

Results are based on responses from 110 athletes from across those sports. Some participants chose not to answer all of the questions, with percentages shown based on responses received. The survey was conducted anonymously, although some athletes chose to put their answers on record.

Lizzie Flint, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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