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The link between body image and physical activity for young girls

Young girl playing soccerConcerns around body image are sadly a reason many young girls and women turn away from physical activity. From being seen in the change rooms to feeling that they won’t look good in their workout clothes, there are various reasons girls and women feel discouraged.

But there are a few things to consider about the relationship between physical activity and body image.

Not participating can actually contribute to the problem

The importance of sport and physical activity needs to be reiterated, as choosing not to participate won’t help the problem.

Engaging in physical activity helps to boost self-esteem and body image, so when young girls feel uncomfortable and opt not to participate, it could be even harder for them to gain the confidence to do so later in life.

By not joining in and participating at a young age, it reinforces the idea that sport is only for those of a certain body type, or that it isn’t for everyone – which isn’t the case at all.

Sport is supposed to be inclusive and when young girls don’t become involved it detracts from what we want sport to be for children, which is accepting, fun and fulfilling.

Someone’s body shape should never shadow his or her ability

At last year’s Rio Olympics, Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno was unfairly labelled as ‘fat’ and likened to an animal by Twitter users. Her achievement of being an Olympic athlete and ability to back-flip were ignored by some and instead her body shape was grilled.

Sporting achievements from women should not purely be recognised on the basis of their physique, as it would be incredibly disappointing for something like this to affect Alexa’s willingness to partake in gymnastics in the future.

Even Serena Williams, one of the most successful female tennis players of the current generation, can’t get out unscathed from a body shape discussion.

Unfortunately, her talent on the court isn’t enough in its own right.

Sport and physical activity can improve body image

A study* has found that exercising is associated with improved body image, proving that participation in sports and physical activity is vital in overcoming body image issues.

Sport has benefits for both physical and mental health, and with children spending so much time in front of computers and screens today, it’s all the more important to get active when possible.

Structured sport is also a great way for young girls to become sociable and learn about teamwork, which again can have positive benefits for overall wellbeing.

Always remind them that physical activity should always be fun, even when it may be competitive, therefore encouraging girls to engage in activities they enjoy is more likely to keep them involved.

Developing fitness habits and knowledge from an early age may assist in healthy lifestyle choices down the track, but in order to form habits, physical activity should be incorporated into a routine.

Parents can act as encouragement

It might be hard for children to partake in physical activity when they are worried about their appearance, but being active makes people feel good and it contributes towards a healthy lifestyle.

While sport may be a source of body image concerns in some instances, research suggests that engaging in physical activity can be beneficial in boosting body confidence.

That is, the more someone engages in physical activity the more likely they are to feel good about themselves, but the reverse is also true; the more positive a child’s body image, the more likely they are to engage in healthy activities, such as physical activity.

Parents should encourage their young girls to participate in sports that they feel comfortable doing and enjoy. If this means trying a sport and changing to something else, that’s perfectly OK. It’s important to reassure your daughter that she hasn’t failed, as not every sport is for everyone. Parents should play a role in helping their daughters find the sport that gives them body confidence and makes them feel included in something positive.

One of the most important ways parents can encourage their daughter to engage in physical activity is to be a positive role model. This may include participating in sport at a social or competitive level, or engaging in fun physical activities as a family.

* Exercise and body image: A meta-analysis Heather A. Hausenblas & Elizabeth A. Fallon Psychology & Health Vol. 21, Iss. 1, 2006

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