Throughout many years, cheerleading has been believed to be an enjoyable group activity to stay fit and healthy. However, cheerleading has been a leading reason for eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia among all other sports. Bulimia is less severe than anorexia because bulimic people tend to consume a minimal quantity of calories, while anorexic people perceive their body as fatter than it actually is and starve themselves. However, they are both dangerous eating disorders that put the lives of those suffering from any of them in danger. In fact, both social factors and psychological affect the development if eating disorders in cheerleaders. The social factors include: idealization of a standard weight, competition among the cheerleaders, and coach pressure. On another hand, the psychological factors include mainly understanding performance, demographic factors such as gender and race, and exercise orientation.
Cheerleading is a sport in which the females get lifted and perform stunts often. That lead to the idealization of a standard weight for cheerleaders who get pressured by their coaches. Borgen and Corbin (1987) found that female athletes involved in activities that emphasized leanness (ballet, gymnastics, body building, and cheerleading) more often had eating disorder symptoms similar to those of individuals with anorexia than female athletes in sports that did not emphasize leanness such as swimming, track and field, and volleyball(Thompson & Sherman, 2003, p. 320). In fact, the types of sports that emphasize leanness are feminine and demand a very light and lean body for the best performance. In addition, these types of sports usually count on appearance as a main opponent with their revealing uniforms. In fact, cheerleaders’ appearance counts for their success: they wear revealing attires which highlight their bodies and make them very noticeable. So, people expect cheerleaders to be small and thin just like they expect sumo fighters to be fat and big. So, the girls feel pressured to meet people’s expectation because any slight additional weight will be noticed easily (Thompson & Sherman, 2003, p. 323-324). As the author said, they wear revealing costumes that increase body consciousness and dissatisfaction. They become perfectionists when it comes to their body which is one of the main causes of bulimia. The girls will either develop subclinical eating disorders or clinical eating disorders (Thompson & Digsby, 2004, p. 85). The ones with subclinical eating disorders will not have severe lifetime consequences. However, the girls with the clinical eating disorders will suffer from lifetime consequences like problems with their periods or breast feeding. In addition to the standard weight and the competitive environment, another social factor would be the coach’s pressure. Coaches pressure some female cheerleaders to lose weight even when they’re below average weight. One of the reasons is that those girls should be lifted by male cheerleaders in their routines. If the girl is not very light, the male cheerleaders risk being injured, therefore ruining the routine (Reel, J.J. & Gill, D.L., 1996, p. 87). Coaches are so worried about the males tossing and lifting their cheerleaders that they ask the girls to maintain a weight standard below average. So, for any girl under 5 feet 7 inches, weight standard is set at a maximum of 120 pounds. The problem is that the cheerleaders believe that their coaches are right and that they should have the lowest weight possible. (Reel, J.J. & Gill, D.L., 1996, p. 88). Furthermore, they do not want to feel like they’re a heavy burden for the male cheerleaders lifting them. A coach claimed that smaller and thinner girls can demonstrate more flexibility and expertise when performing. In addition, Coaches do regular weight in for the cheerleaders so that adds more competition...
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