Unhealthy eating habits in female-dominated sports


Makenzie Closson

Dance studios are where the majority of dancers or even cheerleaders spend their time practicing. Comfortable spaces where young teenagers devote most of their time should remain safe and positive.

Throughout young women’s lives, they are constantly told everything they could do will never amount to what a man could do. 

Women in sports are deemed fragile and incapable, and are often pushed aside to do a sport a “little more their speed.” Sports such as dance, gymnastics and cheerleading quickly become the most female-dominated activities because these art forms are stereotyped as the easiest for women to participate in. Not only are those three sports highly complex, but they demand genuine physical and mental effort. The problem arises when these sports become so feminine to the point where young women are destroying themselves simply to feel accepted. 

According to Women’s Health young girls develop an eating disorder around the ages of 16 and 17 years old. This varies to account for how many of those females are involved in a sport. 15.78 percent of dancers, 16.8 percent of gymnasts and 33.1 percent of cheerleaders all develop some type of eating disorder, the most common being Anorexia-Nervosa. 

The rise of social media plays an enormous role in the way women dictate their bodies. For years now, there has been an unspoken criterion that a female must abide by to be deemed “socially acceptable” and “conventionally attractive.” The impact of media extends into the world of sports when a specific stereotype is put on a specific sport. Dancers are seen to have long torsos, skinny legs and lean muscles. Gymnasts are typically shorter and built in their upper bodies with extremely muscular thighs. Cheerleaders fall in the middle, acquiring traits from both dancers and gymnasts. This isn’t how it should be, but these “rules” have become expected to be followed that a lot of people don’t have the capacity to see outside their cookie-cutter world. 

Senior Kelly Terrebonne has been a cheerleader for seven years. She began cheering competitively three years ago for the school, and she took the position of a flyer. 

“I feel like you have the idea in your mind that you need to be the smallest one there whenever you’re a flyer, or the bases won’t be able to lift you,” Terrebonne said. “ I felt like I shouldn’t eat before practices some days, so I wouldn’t be too heavy for them. It wasn’t always me comparing myself to the other cheerleaders, it was just my mind telling me I needed to be the smallest.” 

As young girls grow up in ever-changing environments, the negativity surrounding their sports can damage their overall outlook on life. The constant mental beatdown can cause self-loathing, hopelessness and intensified anger at oneself or others. 

Senior Zoey Dunkle has been a dancer for fourteen years and a Lioneer for three.

“There are often times when I felt like I could never be good enough,” Dunkle said. “It is hard feeling like I don’t fit in with the look of a dancer. It’s even harder to have voices telling me what I should be looking like because it’s led me to overthink and become extremely hard on myself.” 

Besides eating disorders, female dancers, gymnasts and cheerleaders are just as likely to develop Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). According to WEBMD, 45 percent of females experience BDD from their sport. 

Junior Delaney Barr has been practicing gymnastics for eleven years. After being retired from a local gym due to an injury, she now focuses on competing for the school. 

“If you look at the sport of gymnastics as a whole, anyone could easily tell that there are issues surrounding body image,” Barr said. “From a young age, I have been taught that I always need to be better, faster and stronger. I grew up as one of the tallest gymnasts at my gym, and gymnasts are usually very short.  I was constantly getting called out for my long legs that weren’t like the other girls.”  

There is no way to control every thought that enters the mind, but there is a limit that can be put on how much space and volume is given to them. Countless women are devoting relentless energy to a sport that can also be seen as a delicate art form. Every women-dominated sport should be appreciated, and there is no reason why a consensus of people should make uniquely talented women change themselves for unrealistic standards. 

“There is so much more I could say to all the girls who have gone or are going through this,” Terrebonne said. “Our bodies are canvases with a story that needs to be painted; worth should never be determined by a scale.