Societal Standards v Female Athlete
By: Brianna Gadaleta
Athletes face a great quantity of adversity in their careers, whether it's through actual competition, fighting injuries and many other areas. However, until recently the mental health aspect of the game hadn’t been examined, and understood to play a big role in the overall well being, and skill of the athlete. Even though it has become more accepted to raise awareness on mental health, it comes in all shapes and sizes and it's hard to label such issues in this category because athletes have varying situations that lead to these problems. Mental health is an umbrella that is home to coping mechanisms and conflicts that affect all types of people, in this case female athletes.
Societal standards in the United States, play a role in the various complications for females as they grow up playing the sports they love. At recess for elementary school, I would play kickball everyday because I enjoyed the game, along with the chance to be victorious. I was the only girl who participated consistently, but the boys nor I thought anything of this. As I got older and my love for sports grew, I could tell that less and less girls liked sports, and it was the ‘norm’ for girls at the middle school level to be invested in makeup, being stylish and other activities labeled as ‘girly’. At that age boys were forced into loving sports, being aggressive and competitive, and girls the opposite; weak, delicate and shouldn’t have the desire to play sports as much. I’d say this unfair societal standard still holds true to today. Ever since I’ve come to terms with these ideas, growing up playing three sports and having a competitive mindset in gym instead of being a wallflower in the back, made me really insecure. My insecurity never made me stop doing what I love, but I didn’t think I was normal, and felt extremely out of place. I felt as if I was scary and unlikeable because of my skill amongst my peers. Women that have a passion and talent for sports are placed in a box of being similar to men, and having improper manners. Women shouldn’t have to question their love of sports just because society thinks it's ‘manly’. Movies, tv shows and other forms of media leave an impression on children, that grow up thinking these outdated thoughts on sports are true.
Another huge aspect females struggle with is body image. America has left all women with a terrible idea that there is a perfect appearance out there, that requires you to be small, and take up as little space as possible, along with other more specific beauty standards. If you’re invested, and at the next level of your sport, chances are your body is not the same as a Victoria Secret model. All types of athletes have different toned bodies due to the training of their sport. A swimmers body is going to differ from a tennis body, and a softball body, the list goes on and on. It’s incredibly hard for women to fight out these harmful messages, when we need to be strong and fit. This idea was really hard for me in middle and high school, because I was always much taller, and muscular than my friends, and even some of my boy peers too. I hated my appearance, because I never let myself wear heels, or wear close fitted clothing, because I convinced myself they were only for smaller, shorter girls. Once I got into higher levels of competition with basketball across the United States, I came to realize that there were so many girls like me, that probably felt the same way at some point. Playing against and with physically and mentally strong women helped my growth, into appreciating my body. Strong bodies are a gift, and are taken for granted. They are the tool we used to be victorious in competition, and carry us through our lives.
A common side effect of body image, are eating disorders, and they aren’t strictly to females or athletes. Food is immensely important for an athlete, it's the fuel that is needed for the frequent, intense work they put in. Besides sleeping, it's the other source of energy that allows student athletes to bounce from classes to practices every day. That’s why in high school when girls would only eat a bag of goldfish or chips for lunch, and boys would pretty much eat whatever they want, damaging my eating habits along with others. Girls were never supposed to eat the same or more than boys, because it can be again, seen as ‘manly’ or gross. I unfortunately fell victim to this trend, and would be starving all day, and still have practice at the end of the day. I wouldn’t have enough energy I needed to be productive during a game of practice, which hurt myself and my teammates. Eventually I stopped this cycle and enjoyed my homemade sack lunch, every last bit of it, but it wasn’t easy to do. In college, it's great to see my teammates and other female athletes eating what they want, when they want. Although a lot of this comes with maturity, it’s great to know that it doesn’t really matter how many times I go up to get food, as long as it gives my body the healthy nutrients it needs to allow me to pursue the sport I love.
These were just a few widely common problems for female athletes. The pressures of sports and balancing them from a day to day basis are really hard for people, and can be destructive for the mind. But these issues also aren’t limited to just females, they can be points of struggle for male athletes as well. What a lot of society forgets is that first and foremost, athletes are humans, not machines. To be a happy, healthy person, you need to be healthy not just physically, but on the inside as well, even when competing in a sport.