Understanding body image perceptions of former female athletes: A qualitative analysis. Academic Article uri icon


  • Female athletes and non-athletes alike are affected by a variety of cultural factors and social comparisons that influence how they evaluate their own bodies. For female athletes, the self-evaluative process is distinctly complicated during and after their retirement transition. Grounded in social comparison theory, this study uses a phenomenological approach with semi-structured interviews. The sample consists of 20 post career NCAA female athletes. Questions focused on obtaining a more holistic understanding of their lived experiences, influences on their perceptions of body image, and how they cope and adapt in the post-retirement phase. Data were coded iteratively using thematic analysis. Findings reveal distinct challenges to this population of women from a variety of factors at the individual level (i.e., insecurities, learning through lived experience, performance empowerment, pregnancy and childbirth), institutional/community level (i.e., network outside of athletics, role of coaches, external validation), and socio-cultural level (i.e., marketed body ideals, evolution of marketing, social pressures). The data inform theoretical and practical implications to help proactively assist athletes in healthy transitions, especially in adult life stages. We argue those in positions of power have not only the potential, but also a moral obligation to cultivate supportive structures for athletes during and after their careers.

published proceedings

  • Body Image

author list (cited authors)

  • Hardie, A., Oshiro, K. F., & Dixon, M. A.

complete list of authors

  • Hardie, Ashlyn||Oshiro, Kristi F||Dixon, Marlene A

publication date

  • December 2022