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A Phenomenological Approach to Exploring Body Image Among Powerlifters
Sport and exercise are associated with less negative body image and more positive body image. For example, athletes report less negative body image than exercisers and non-athletes. One explanation for this finding is that competitive sport may be an embodying activity. Embodying activities are those which promote a mind-body link, body awareness and responsiveness, and physical empowerment and competence which in turn may reduce self-objectification and promote more positive body image. Powerlifting, a sport that involves the squat, bench, and deadlift, meets the criteria for embodying activities. However, powerlifters also often have an appearance that does not ascribe to West culture ideal; in fact, they often have a body type that is perceived as obese (based on appearance). Ultimately, these athletes may experience body image struggles, as these athletes attempt to meet two contradictory ideals. Consequently, powerlifters’ experiences may be linked to both positive and negative body image, and further investigation is warranted. The research question for this study was: what are powerlifters’ experiences of body image in relation to their dietary and physical activity patterns? The research question was investigated using a phenomenological approach, specifically, heuristic inquiry. Four male and three female competitive powerlifters each participated in two semi-structured interviews. Interview questions aimed to understand the interconnection between body image, exercise, and dietary habits. Overall, results from this study provided evidence of both positive and negative body image. Women and men powerlifters embodied functionality (e.g., feeling their body lift the weight on the bar and focusing less on their how their body looked) and particularly for women, this represented a real shift in body image from their experiences prior to becoming involved in the sport. However, gender differences were also evident. Women related to the physical characteristics of the other powerlifters (e.g., toned and athletic female powerlifters) which impacted their body image both positively and negatively. Men sought powerlifting as a catalyst to not focus on the muscular ideal. Further, women’s dietary habits showed aspects of dietary restraint whereas men often force fed themselves to stay competitive. Overall, powerlifting had a complex impact on men and women’s body image.