One of the most controversial topics in all of sports is the idea of body image. Elite athletes are supposed to look fit and fabulous with toned muscles, six-pack abs, and no body fat. For female athletes, especially swimmers, the struggle to look a certain way can be physically and mentally draining.
Every sport has its own uniform, but other than gymnastics, the swimmers’ uniform is one of the most revealing. It is pretty easy to tell how a swimmer looks, because there is no way to hide anything in a suit. So, it is easy for coaches, opponents, and peers to see if swimmers have put on a few pounds. Because of this, swimmers need to take good care of themselves on the inside and the outside.
The human body is always changing and the female body changes practically daily. Female swimmers might feel fabulous and strong one day and then not just a few days later. One of the biggest issues facing female swimmers is that their broad muscular shoulders and strong legs do not transfer into the world of fashion and sex appeal. Many female swimmers feel strong and amazing while they are swimming and training for their events, but not when they leave the pool and wander out into the world.
Female swimmers do not have petite little bodies that attract the opposite sex – or so some female swimmers think. Female swimmers often feel masculine when they are with people who are not swimmers. It can be difficult for female swimmers to find clothing that fits them in an attractive way because of their muscular bodies. Instead of having the thin arms, curvy waists, and large breasts, athletic swimmers have quite the opposite – all because of their training. It can be difficult for female swimmers, especially those in their late teens and early twenties, to want to keep swimming because the pull to fit in with everyone else is so strong.
Instead, women who swim need to look at the world through their own lenses. Understanding that they are elite athletes can create a positive body image. Female swimmers need to develop their own personal pride in their amazing physiques and their amazing abilities. They are beyond normal – not less than normal. Lifting weights and swimming laps will not keep people from loving them; in reality, it will encourage people to love them, because the female swimmers are who they are – strong, beautiful, athletic women.
In order to build and maintain a positive body image and a positive mental outlook on life, many athletic female swimmers have changed a few things in their lives. It is important to cultivate their mental health by building confidence. This can happen by making a few changes:
- Some swimmers have surrounded themselves with images of other strong female swimmers, rather than images of slender non-athletes. Having pictures of swimmers and other female athletes helps reinforce that their athletic bodies are attractive and desirable. The ESPN Body issue is full of quality images of real female athletes whose bodies show the different ways that women can look.
- Some female swimmers and other athletes also use positive words to help them get through their days when they are not surrounded with fellow swimmers. It is important to remember how strong and beautiful the swimmer’s body is.
- Many female swimmers stay away from the scale, unless it is needed for training. There are other methods to judge how the body looks. Checking weight can be deceiving, especially since muscle is more dense than fat.
- If issues with body image become problematic, there is nothing wrong with getting psychological help. There are psychologists who specialize in this issue and they know how to work with female athletes. It is better to get help than to suffer from mental struggles.