A disruption of normal exercise routines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has caused concerns around body confidence among some female student-athletes.
The NCAA cited in a recent mental health study that women were 30% more likely to report high levels of depression and distress, while also being a third more likely to report body image issues.
Wayne State University Softball teammates have discussed body image, including how the pandemic has impacted their physical condition, said Brooke Turkalj, a senior catcher.
“There are some comments about how we want to get back into the swing of things, we feel like we’ve gotten out of shape and we want to get back into shape,” Turkalj said. “There’s more of a push and concentration on the body, our image and the perceived level of confidence in ourselves and our bodies right now.”
Societal pressures can have an effect on an individual’s body confidence, said Heather Dillaway, associate dean of WSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Department of Sociology professor.
“At a very young age girls are starting to learn that people are paying attention to their bodies and they [girls] learn that they’re being watched by society,” Dillaway said.
COVID-19 restrictions limiting in-person athletics affected student-athletes’ daily routines, Turkalj said.
“When quarantine hit, with all the stressing, flipped everything upside down and turned my whole lifestyle around to the point where I was sitting around a lot more,” Turkalj said. “It shut down our sports, it shut down our lives.”
Maintaining body confidence is difficult during the pandemic, said Teanna McCuaig, a junior women’s track and field student-athlete.
“When I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t make my body look how I wanted it to look or what was normal to me,” McCuaig said.
Structured physical activity significantly decreased during the pandemic. The softball team went from intense 20 hour a week workouts to “being locked up in our houses,” Turkalj said.
“I was sitting throughout the day not having to move, not having to go anywhere and easily wander around the house and pick up whatever snack I wanted to eat and then I didn’t have a workout routine,” Turkalj said.
Social media can contribute to negative body image perceptions among women, Dillaway said.
“It’s so important to look a particular way to others, it’s all about the likes you’re getting,” Dillaway said.
Many social media users became more physically active during the pandemic, putting increased pressure on others to be productive, Turkalj said.
“I was on social media comparing myself to other people, having a lot more time on social media just scrolling,” McCuaig said. “I felt like I needed to learn how to be successful on my social media, like stand out or please my followers.”
McCuaig puts words of positive affirmations on her mirror to remind herself that her body is beautiful, she said.
“If I’m ever feeling bad, I just go sit in front of the mirror and look at myself. I have to force myself to read those [notes] things, I literally cannot just be negative,” McCuaig said.
Bethany Owens is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Cover photo provided by Teanna McCuaig.