American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Squeezing In: Exploring Female Athletes' Body Perceptions

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Vikki Krane (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Nancy Spencer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dryw Dworsky (Committee Member)


Much attention has been paid to female college athlete body image over the last three decades. However, relatively few inquiries employed a holistic approach that examined the myriad of interrelated sociocultural and personal factors influencing athletes' body perceptions. The primary purpose of the current study was to explore female college athletes' body image in both social and sport settings. A secondary purpose was to investigate the sociocultural context and how it influenced athletes' body perceptions. Finally, this study sought to understand the ways in which female athletes' social identities helped explain their body-related behaviors. Feminist and intersectional methodological approaches guided this inquiry to create partial, in-depth understandings of how female athletes think about and relate to their physiques. The study is particularly unique in its commitment to representing multiple, diverse stories from athletes without privileging one type of body perception. Using an intersectional methodology contextualized athletes body descriptions to uncover deeper meanings and underlying factors. Twenty female college athletes participated in unstructured interviews. These athletes represented eight different varsity sports at NCAA Division I, II, and III institutions.

This study offers a new perspective on the relationship between motivational team climate and female athlete body image. While task-oriented team climates still appear to serve as a protective factor against body disturbances among athletes, findings also indicated that a team's obsession with the body seemed more closely tied to body image issues than a team's goal orientation. How strongly women adhered to White, heterosexual, middle-class definitions of femininity influenced their experiences with their bodies both in and out of sport. Further, their social identities related to how women negotiated their physiques within body boundaries.