Exploring body image at the intersection of racial, sort, and gender identities: giving voice to Black female athletes' experiences
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A growing body of research has identified the duality of body image that female athletes experience, whereby they navigate multiple body ideals defined by both sport culture and the broader culture. This research often reflects the White female experience, limiting the understanding of the unique experiences of Black female athletes. The purpose of this qualitative study was to amplify the voices of Black female athletes. Objectification Theory (Roberts and Fredrickson, 1997) and Intersectionality Theory (Crenshaw, 1989) were used as a framework for this study to explore body image among Black female athletes while considering the intersection of gender, racial, and sport identities within Black culture, White culture, and sport culture. Eight current Division 1 collegiate female athletes who self-identified as Black completed a semi-structured interview protocol. Participants represented four different predominantly White institutions (PWI) in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the US. Consensual qualitative research (CQR; Hill, 2005) methodology was used to analyze the data and the following domains were identified: (a) Perceived Body Ideals and Social Influences; (b) Self-evaluation and Contextual Body Image; (c) Weight and Performance; (d) Objectification and Gendered Racism; (e) Identity; and (f) Protective Factors. The results of this study revealed Black female athletes navigate multiple conflicting body ideals and appearance expectations within sport culture, Black culture, and dominant culture. Additionally, body image is contextual, whereby participant's perceptions or evaluations of their bodies shifted as they navigated different spaces, racial groups, or cultural contexts. Participants described personal and vicarious experiences of gendered racial microaggressions, discrimination, and objectification both within the context of sport and outside of sport. Participants also described an association between muscularity and masculinity and the historical dehumanization and defeminization of Black female athletes. While muscularity appeared to threaten perceived femininity, participants engaged in behaviors to monitor and limit others' evaluations of their muscularity. Participants also appeared to be vulnerable to messaging from coaches related to weight loss and an emphasis on body fat percentage. Additionally, participants described regular DEXA scans to measure their body composition that were administered by their athletic departments, which contributed to increased body image distress, body monitoring, and disordered eating behaviors. Implications and directions for future studies exploring body image among Black identified female athletes are discussed.