Big Issues In Sport: Sport As An Antidote For Society’s Obsession With Physical Perfection

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We live in a society fixated on the idea of bodily perfection. It permeates nearly every form of popular media that exists today and, to many people, it seems inescapable. However, this summer of 2016 is going to be a summer of both national and international sporting events, which will likely provide a source of relief for many who wish to escape an imaged obsessed media.

This year, the world will watch as athletes compete in a range of sports at the very highest level. These events are characterised by the graft, loyalty, determination and teamwork of the sportsmen and sportswomen who give their utmost to achieve success. Quite simply, the sport we will watch this summer will be about obtaining a very different kind of perfection.

Perhaps then, in today’s society, sport can be seen as an antidote to the endless pressure from the media to conform to an ideal body type.  Sport, both as a hobby as well as a profession, can impact on people’s perceptions and expectations of what is seen as physically acceptable. The many positive aspects of sport can be used as a tool to challenge the negative messages given by today’s media and offer an alternative, more positive image. The world of sport and dance contain a wonderful variety of body types. Furthermore, those who achieve their goals do so through the strength of their character as well as through their physical capabilities.

Sport encourages body positive messages to both genders. It emphasises the importance of having a healthy body, regardless of shape and size, over that of pursuing a body that is promoted as desirable in the media. Many people forget or underestimate the importance of being healthy when pursuing a certain body image. People can resort to quick, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous diets.  Sport can provide us with a new blueprint to work from. In sport, a healthy body is paramount for an athlete. An athlete balances extensive exercise with a diet tailored to their body’s needs. Sport underlines the important message that a good diet is vital for maintaining a healthy body, especially when the body has undergone physical exertion, provided a right balance has been struck.

However, many people feel reluctant to take part in any form of physical activity. Reasons commonly given for this include individuals feeling uncomfortable with their own bodies and concerns with how other people will perceive them. There also is a prevailing image that sport is reserved for individuals who conform to society’s ideas about body image. These issues are not confined to just one gender, although these concerns appear to have more of an impact on female participation in sport.

In 2015, the famous female health campaign, This Girl Can, was launched to encourage and celebrate female participation in sport, after it was discovered that there were 2 million fewer women taking part in physical activity compared to men. It was the first campaign to focus on women of all ages, encouraging women to participate in sport for their own enjoyment as well as for its health benefits.  The campaign has been a rounding success, with reports that 2 million women became more involved in sport due to its impact. It supported women of all body types to be proud of their bodies and encouraged women not to see sport as just a way of obtaining a certain body standard. It promoted the concepts of both body care and body confidence. The campaign offered memorable quotes such as ‘sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ and ‘I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it’. This Girl Can is a refreshingly realistic campaign that offers an honest perspective on how a woman appears during physical exertion. It promotes the message that female sweat and flushed faces during exercise are both natural, and perfectly acceptable.

Most importantly, sport can be used to help people learn to value their own individuality. Sport encourages people to learn about their body’s abilities and what it capable of. It inspires people to build on their own achievements and strive towards future goals. Participating in sport can encourage confidence, as well as skills such as teamwork, commitment, discipline and communication, which are valuable skills in all areas of life. Essentially, sport encourages people to focus on what their body can do, rather than what it is not. People can learn about the type of person they are able to become, rather than what they aren’t.

Our society’s obsession with body image is an issue that does not appear to be fading anytime soon. Sport is a way in which people can escape from the pressures surrounding them and provide a source of release. It reassures people that their worth is far greater than conforming to the narrow image touted by the media. Health and confidence are more desirable traits than a ‘perfect’ body image. I look forward to a summer of watching sporting events, in which sportsmen and women show the world the achievements that are really worth striving for.

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