The observed and perceived body image of female comrades marathon

Por: Leon Van Niekerk e Natalie Beukes.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Body image is seen to be a multidimensional construct broadly describing internal, subjective representations of physical appearance and bodily experience [1]. Female marathon athletes who suffer from body-image disturbance are members of a unique group with a unique problem. Unlike people who do not exercise and suffer from eating disorders, the female marathon athlete who has, or is predisposed to have, an eating disorder has difficulties, which are complicated by a sport environment that may overemphasis performance, and also demand an ideal body size, shape and weight. Thus a unique study was done which examined the role that sport and exercise plays on a female Comrades Marathon athlete’s observed and perceived body image and whether a difference exists between the observed and perceived body image.


To address this issue, 49 female Comrades Marathon athletes (mean age = 38.4) completed the Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ) [2], a standardised instrument assessing affective, cognitive, and behavioural components of appearance-related body image. Anthropometry measured body height, body weight and body fat percentage and was calculated on the basis of six skinfolds as stipulated by MOGAP [3].


Two groups were established and subjects were classified as underweight or normal/overweight. General findings revealed that the two groups differed only on three variables of the MBSRQ, being fitness orientation (p-value = 0.005<0.05), health orientation (p-value = 0.029< 0.05) and self-classified weight (p-value < 0.0005).

Discussion / Conclusions

Discussion focuses on factors that influence observed and perceived body image, and the role that exercise and sport plays in the formation of an athlete’s body image. Practical implications for sport, psychologists and coaches who work with athletes are addressed.


[1]. Cash, T.F. & Pruzinsky, T. (1990). Body Images: Development, Deviance, and Change. New York, Guilford Press.
[2]. Cash, T.F. (1997). The Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to like your Looks. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications.
[3]. Carter, J.E.L. (1982). Body Composition of Olympic Athletes. In J.E.L. Carter (Ed.), Physical Stature of Olympic Athletes, Part 1, Montreal Olympic Games Anthropological Project. Basel, Karger.






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