As part of the Weight? No comment! week, Sport’Aide has collaborated on several projects with the ÉquiLibre organization in order to be able to better prevent and counter bullying on weight and appearance. The present series of three blogs covering this subject is part of this line. The goal is to explain the phenomenon and find possible actions to deal with this problem.
In the first blog, we understood that bullying is a group phenomenon whereby a negative leader will attack a young marginalized person. We also understood that it is quite prevalent since 64% of adolescents aged 14-18 years reported having been victimized on their weight (Puhl & al., 2013). Beyond the reasons discussed in the first blog which can explain such a prevalence in the sports environment, the sports culture can sometimes by very unhealthy in this respect.
The ideal body
Right or wrong, certain sports impose an ideal body on their athlete for performance or esthetic reasons (Parent & al., 2018). I am going to take the time to discuss this concept or this myth of the idea. body over several lines to be certain that we understand each other. It is true that in certain sports, such as swimming, running or gymnastics, certain body types benefit from a performance standpoint. However, we have to be careful, because certain athletes have succeeded at a very high level even though they had “atypical” bodies based on the ideals of their sport. Here we are talking about Moggsy Bogues in basketball, Serena Williams in tennis, Usain Bolt in sprint, Simone Biles in gymnastics and many others. All of these people were told: “you are too small, too big, too square…” Yet their difference made their strength. We should therefore be careful about making hasty judgements to avoid destroying what makes our athletes special and unique. That said, if you thing that an intervention on weight is necessary, make sure you seek help from a professionals, or contact Sport’Aide or ÉquiLibre to be certain that the intervention is adequate. On our help line, we still hear horror stories where coaches weigh their athletes in front of others or humiliate them because of their weight. Therefore, please ask for help…
In this area, we also have to understand that when we talk about performance, we are referring to the elite level. We are talking about a level where performance is the most important thing. However, when we are on the recreational level, can we still simply take pleasure in practicing our sport? This debate on weight and performance also contributes to stigmatization and encourages bullying in this respect (Parent & al., 2018). An American study even showed that 42% of young victims bullied about their weight also stated that they had also been bulled by their physical education teacher or their coach (Puhl & al., 2013).
Disgust, abandon and eating disorders
It’s not funny when the people who are supposed to help you get a thirst for sport are the ones who make you disgust it. Because it’s true that certain people are disgusted by sport because of their stigmatization (Billet & al., 2011). Following is a testimonial by a young person who experienced repeated bullying, exclusion and stigmatization in a sporting context. We can see the resentment that he still has today for the sports culture.
“I was disgusted by sport because when I saw 10-year-old kids telling their mothers at the end of a game ´Oh, I scored a goal!´, it almost made me feel like vomiting.” (Billet & al., 2011, p. 51)
Fortunately, in Québec, our teachers have in-depth training which limits certain negative behaviours. However, we still have trouble keeping our children active sometimes because of similar experiences (Billet & al., 2011). Moreover, many young girls hold back from practicing physical activities because of this culture which fills them with an obsession to be thin and makes them fear being looked at by others (Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, 1995). We also have to take into consideration that this culture is today intensified by the advent of social media, which trains people to fear having others look at them and which further ingrains the obsession to be thin because of its numerous filters used to hide ordinary life (Twenge, 2017). In this area, the article by Arata (2016) is very striking.
In the end, the consequence of all of this is that it plunges certain young people into behaviours that are detrimental to their health. Research shows that it is often this pressure to have the ideal body that pushes athletes to adopt behaviours such as overtraining, excessive diets and extreme weight loss like in combat sports (Parent & al., 2018). This culture is even linked to the risks of developing certain eating disorders, such as anorexia, boulimia or bigorexia (Parent & al., 2018). If you don’t know what bigorexia is, I encourage you to read the blog that we wrote Bigorexia: When sport becomes and addiction.
In conclusion, as we were able to see in the first blog, part of the problem of bullying on weight and appearance comes from values and norms developed by the group dynamic. However, these values often come from the environment in which groups are interconnected. It is therefore not surprising to observe that the problem is very present in a sports environment since the sports culture places so much value on the ideal body. That said, what can we do to change things and deal with this problem?
Watch for our next blog and final blog which will discuss foreseeable solutions for stakeholders in sports and leisure.
Project Manager Take action! Counter bullying in sports
In collaboration with
Karah Stanworth-Belleville, Project Manager at ÉquiLibre
Arata, E. (2016) The Unexpected Reason Snachat’s “Pretty” Filters Hurt Your Self Esteem. Repéré à https://www.elitedaily.com/wellness/snapchat-filters-self-esteem/1570236.
Association canadienne pour l’avancement des femmes, du sport et de l’activité physique. (1995). À chances égales : les adolescentes, le tabac et l’activité physique. Ottawa. 68 pages.
Billet, E. & Debarbieux, E. (2011). Le sport : un modèle de pratique anti-éthique. Repéré à https://rm.coe.int/ethique-et-sport-en-europe/1680736949.
Puhl, R. M., Peterson, J. L., & Luedicke, J. (2013). Weight-based victimization: Bullying experiences of weight loss treatment–seeking youth. Pediatrics, 131(1), e1-e9.
Parent, S. & Fortier, K. (2018). Chapitre 8 : La violence envers les athlètes en contexte sportif. Repéré à https://www.inspq.qc.ca/sites/default/files/publications/2380_chapitre-8.pdf.
Twenge, J. M. (2017). IGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy–and completely unprepared for adulthood–and what that means for the rest of us. Simon and Schuster.