Body Image in Division I Male Athletes: Why is Baseball High and Outside?

Authors: Lorraine Killion & Dean Culpepper

Corresponding Author:
Lorraine Killion, Ed.D.
Associate Professor
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
700 University Blvd.
Kingsville, TX 78363-8202

Lorraine Killion is an Associate Professor in the Health & Kinesiology Department at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. She is also the EC-12 Physical Education Program Coordinator.

Dean Culpepper is in the Health and Human Performance Department at Texas A&M University-Commerce and is a Certified Sports Psychology Consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
Body Image in Division I Male Athletes: Why is Baseball High and Outside?

Body image research has largely focused on females and a drive for thinness. Recent research has investigated males and a drive for muscularity indicating an increasing concern for males’ appearance of their body. A desire to enhance their physical image has increased pressure to meet a body ideal for their sport. The purpose of this study was to examine Division I male athletes’ body perceptions. Upon IRB approval, ninety four (N=94) athletes volunteered for the study. To determine body image differences, three sports were considered: football (n = 51), basketball (n = 14), and baseball (n = 29). Demographic and anthropometric measures were taken by the researchers. The Multidimensional Body Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS) was administered and five subscales were examined. ANOVAs documented differences between Body Area Satisfaction [F(2, 92) = 20.61, p> .001], Appearance Evaluation [F(2,92) = 6.50, p =.002], and Appearance Orientation [F(2, 92) = 9.84, p <.001]. Bonferroni post hoc tests showed baseball players demonstrated a unique difference from their football and basketball cohorts: AE (p=.002), AO (p= .000), & BASS (p= .000). Findings shed additional light onto male body image. While Fitness Orientation showed no significant differences, Appearance Orientation yielded a more meaningful score for baseball players. Baseball has a history and infamous past concerning the need to “bulk up.” Regulations and legal efforts have diminished drug abuse in the sport, but the psychological need to obtain a larger upper body still exists. Researchers and coaches should further examine the baseball culture so the behavioral determinants can be better understood.

Keywords: body image, athletes, appearance

While research has described body image as a complex phenomenon of physiological, psychological, and sociological components, it has largely focused on women. For years, the body of literature has focused on females and has hypothesized a drive for thinness (1) in the female population. Recent research; however, has investigated males and a drive for muscularity (2) has emerged as a focal point.

Current research illustrates an increasing concern in males with the appearance of their body and a desire to enhance their physical image (3), as well as, increased pressure to meet a body ideal for their sport (4). While sport is ingrained in the fabric of Western culture, the most recent decades, have produced a form of hegemonic masculinity. This type of masculinity has produced a sense of wealth and power. It appears that the sporting arena has transformed into one of physical prowess (football players slamming the ball into the turf in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, or a basketball player pounding his chest after slam-dunking a rim shot). This physical prowess in sport has brought about an appearance of cut abdominals and fit, hard muscles (5).

Lerner and Pool (6) pointed out the idea that muscular appearance is idealized. Lerner and his colleagues described a muscular male body with traits such as attractive and strong, with the skinny and obese body types ascribed traits such as lazy and sneaky (6). In a study by Ridgeway and Tylka (7), the researchers reported perceptions by college males of the ideal male body and found the participants described muscularity as multidimensional. The participants reported a body that was both high in muscle, yet low in fat.

Among Western societies, a certain high-ranking status is placed on those who achieve these masculine attributes. Men without the attributes are devalued and often stigmatized. One can excel in the classroom, but if he does not excel in the gym, then he does not have the same status (8). Pope, Phillips, and Olivardia (3) describe the pressures of looking like “real men” and having big muscles as the Adonis Complex, and Galli and Reel (4) further explain that not having that appearance makes men feel more like Hephaestus. Society is telling men, more than ever before, that their bodies define who they are as men. The media, men’s magazines, and advertisements often portray the “ideal male” as physically strong or athletic in appearance. Photos in these ads illustrate defined “abs” and “pecs” and send the message that athletes have the body all men should strive to achieve (4). In a way, society drives males to feel the pressure to achieve that Adonis look or idea of masculinity.

Male athletes also feel the pressure to achieve that masculine look. Not only for aesthetic reasons, but to exhibit strength and power in their respective sport as well. Both males and females have tried a myriad of diets and exercise regiments in response to society pressures. For females, it has historically been a drive for thinness and the pressure to lose weight (9). Although research on the drive for thinness and eating disorders in females continues, the examination of males and the drive for muscularity has accelerated. In addition, attention to male athletes’ eating behaviors (10, 11) and the evolving awareness of performance enhancement substances (PES) in the sporting arena (12, 13), to achieve size, strength and power has caused the interest in male body image to surge. The purpose of this study was to examine the body perceptions of collegiate Division I male athletes.

The study was IRB approved and ninety-four college-aged male athletes (N=94) from a regional Division I institution volunteered to participate in the study. In an attempt to examine body image differences, three sports were selected: football, basketball, and baseball.

The male athletes were asked to assemble in an assigned room with the researchers. All surveys were completed confidentially and anonymously. Anonymity was insured as only numbers were allocated to each athlete’s packet in the study. No names or student identification numbers were taken. Demographic data was self-report and completed by the athletes. Each athlete was asked to complete the packet that was comprised of: informed consent, demographics, the Multidimensional Body Self-Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS), Eating Attitude Test (EAT-26), and the Stunkard Figural Rating Scale.

While the athletes completed the packet information, the researchers took actual height and weight measures and body mass index using a test/retest method and recording the average of the two measures for each athlete. In addition to the information gathered from the various instruments provided in the packet, personal information for current and ideal body types was collected and the sport in which they participated.

The sessions were held by sport. Each sport met on separate days so as not to interfere with practices. Completion of the informed consent, questionnaires, height and weight measurements, and body mass index recordings took approximately 20-30 minutes. When all surveys were completed, they were filed confidentially in a locked file cabinet. Each of the measures taken is described below.

First, consent forms were administered and signed by all athletes who volunteered for the study. Athletes were given #2 pencils and asked to self-report the designated variables on the information page. The given variables included: age, ethnicity, classification, sport, and position played in the respective sport.

Anthropometric Measures
Knowing that self-reports may overestimate height and underestimate weight (14), the researchers performed actual height, weight, and BIA analyses on each athlete. While the athletes completed the self-report information in the packets, the researchers took actual measures of the athletes. A designated area of the room was in the rear of the room and privacy was ensured by a small sliding screen to protect each athlete from view while being measured. A Lohman Protocol (15) was implemented for both height and weight measures. Athletes were weighed in pounds on a Tanita digital scale (Model WB-100A) digital scale and weight was taken twice and the average of the two measures was recorded. After they had been weighed, the athletes were then measured for height on a Shorr height stadiometer (ShorrBoard®). Two measures were taken in a test/retest method and the average of the two was recorded by the researchers. Before returning to where they were seated, the athletes were asked to grip the handles of a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) analyzer (Omron model HBF-306C) handheld monitor for body fat measure. The researchers recorded the body fat percentage and then allowed the athlete to return to the seating area and continue with completing forms in the information packet.

Multidimensional Body Self-Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS)
The MBSRQ-AS is a well-validated self-report inventory for the assessment of body image. Body image is described as one’s attitudinal dispositions toward the physical self. As attitudes, these dispositions include evaluative, cognitive, and behavioral components. The physical self comprises not only one’s physical appearance, but the body’s competence or fitness. (16). The MBSRQ-Appearance Scales (MBSRQ-AS) is a 34-item measure that consists of 5 subscales Appearance Evaluation, Appearance Orientation, Overweight Preoccupation, Self-Classified Weight, and the Body Areas Satisfaction Scale (BASS), (17). Items on the inventory are rated on a five-point scale from definitely disagree to definitely agree. The 9-item body areas satisfaction subscale assess satisfaction level of nine discrete body areas or aspects, such as face, muscle tone, and upper torso, from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. The 4-item overweight preoccupation subscale that assesses one’s concerns with becoming or being overweight are rated on a scale ranging from definitely disagree to definitely agree (18).

Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26)
The EAT-26 (19) is a modified version of the original 40-item Eating Attitudes Test. It is a widely used standardized self-report measure of symptoms and concerns characteristic of eating disorders (20).

Shorr portable adjusting Adult stadiometer.

Tanita Model (WB-100A) digital scale.

Body Composition
Omron HBF-306 Body Logic Pro hand-held Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) unit.

The final number of male athletes (N = 94) was comprised of: football players (n = 51), basketball players (n = 14), and baseball players (n = 29).

Descriptive statistics for the subjects are presented in Table 1. Means and standard deviations for the MBSRQ-AS subscales and the EAT-26 are presented in Table 2.

Table 1

Table 2

Multidimensional Body Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS)
The Multidimensional Body Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS) was administered and five subscales were examined. ANOVAs documented differences between Body Area Satisfaction [F(2, 91) = 20.61, p> .001], Appearance Evaluation [F(2,91) = 6.50, p =.002], and Appearance Orientation [F(2, 91) = 9.84, p <.001]. Bonferroni post hoc tests showed baseball players demonstrated a unique difference from their football and basketball cohorts: AE (p=.002), AO (p= .000), & BASS (p= .000). Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26)
No significant differences were found for Factor I (Dieting), Factor II (Bulimia and Food Preoccupation), or Factor III (Oral Control) between the three sport groups, indicating no implied disturbed attitudes toward food. The means and standard deviations for the three EAT Test factors are reported by sport in Table 2.

Findings shed additional light onto male body image. Overall, football and basketball players were highly satisfied with their size and demonstrated no desire the gain weight; however, baseball players were uniquely different for Body Area Satisfaction (BASS). Baseball players find themselves in somewhat of a Catch-22 situation. The demands of the sport: fielding, throwing, batting, etc. requires strength. Strength is generally achieved through cycles of lifting heavy weights; however, many baseball players do not subscribe to the theory of lifting heavy weights. When interviewed, they explain the frustration they experience in trying to achieve the muscle size necessary to generate powerful hitting and strong throws to home plate, yet they do not believe in lifting heavy weights as they feel it makes them “tight” and they can’t afford to be tight and still make the play in a critical situation. So the dilemma continues: how to gain strength and size without heavy lifting. Many players expressed an understanding of why professional players such as Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez considered the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to alleviate the current enigma.

Of particular interest is the fact that both football and basketball players reported satisfaction with their upper body size, but the baseball players expressed a desire to increase their upper body size. Data implies a need for additional information and education regarding the values placed on this dissatisfaction in body size. Current research on male body image reports an increasing trend toward male body obsession (3). Grogan and Richards (21) reported the ideal man as having muscles contained in the “arms, chest, back, biceps, and triceps.” These physical characteristics of the body commonly referred to as the “torso” are the designated area indicated by the baseball players in this study. Perhaps baseball players become dissatisfied with their own body appearance and pursue a more ideal shape.

For the MBSRQ-AS, while Fitness Orientation showed no significant differences, Appearance Orientation yielded a more meaningful score for baseball players. A closer examination into baseball could reveal why players value and rate appearance so highly. What is the definition of athletic? In football, a player can be specialized and play a particular position (i.e., lineman); however, in baseball, every aspect of the game requires a well-rounded player. Baseball players walk a thin line as they must: a) swing the bat, b) run the bases, and c) throw the ball. In a way, a dilemma exists in that running the bases require stamina and endurance and hitting a grand slam require strength and power. Steroids have been the solution to this dilemma for many professional baseball players: Bonds, Sosa, Conseco, and McGuire were accused of using performance enhancing (AAS) drugs to solve this issue. However, many players tout their use as injury prevention as well.

Baseball has a history and infamous past concerning the need to “bulk up.” Regulations and legal efforts have diminished drug abuse in the sport, but the psychological need to obtain a larger upper body is still prevalent. Researchers and coaches should further examine the baseball culture so the behavioral determinants can be better understood.

Although the results of this study help shed additional light onto male body image of male collegiate athletes, a few limitations should be noted. In an attempt to examine current and ideal body image, the Stunkard Figures were used. Research has now emerged that claims presenting the figures in ascending order may lead to viewer bias through visual size increments. Add to that the fact that the male ideal body has a high degree of muscularity, but a low degree of body fat. Using the current ascending figures may indicate a larger physique, but not necessarily more muscular or leaner. Current trends have suggested computerized body image tests to improve the methodology of body image assessment. Also, the volunteers in the study were a convenience sample selecting participants from the most heavily participated sports on campus.

Suggestions for Future Research
Although previous body image research has focused on body dissatisfaction in women, current research suggests a closer look at males. The present trend for muscularity warrants additional research for males of all ages, both athletes and non-athletes. Additional information could provide valuable insight for coaches, trainers, counselors, and parents into the concept of the perfect man with the ideal body size. Recent research has examined societal and cultural trends suggesting that body image now affects males. In an attempt to achieve this ideal body shape, muscularity seems to be a common desire for achievement. Sports have historically drawn males of certain body types to specific sports (e.g., mesomorphs to football and ectomorphs to basketball). This study was conducted to examine male athletes and compare body image concerns between athletes participating in three popular college sports.

It can be seen that different physique types a prevalent exclusive to that sport. Football linemen are large and muscular for strength and power while cross country runners are lean for speed. Perhaps the age of worldwide web and media exposure has presented the male physique in a manner that demands attention: rock-hard abs and massive biceps. Fans love their sporting events and many have favorite athletes. The rise in popularity of sport can be seen in subscriptions to ESPN, sport-specific magazines, and commercials. For years, women sought the ideal shape and research focused on the drive for thinness. With the rise in visibility of sport, a new image calls for the attention of research – males and the drive for muscularity.

There is evidence that indicates high incidents of disordered eating in males participating in sports such a boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics to control weight. Perhaps the opposite is true; there are attempts (protein shakes, anabolic steroids, etc.) to gain weight. Certainly, the rise in litigation and accusations of steroid abuse in the game of baseball has brought this to the forefront of the sporting world. It appears that additional information is needed to further understand this recent phenomenon.

Unlike the football players and basketball players surveyed in this study, the baseball players demonstrated dissatisfaction with their current body size. Perhaps the torso of these athletes is at the center of the tug-of-war they are in with themselves. Maybe they have been thrown a curve ball that is high and inside rendering them unable to create a homerun out of the perplexing dilemma of a pitch thrown their way.

More education is needed for researchers, coaches, trainers, parents, and counselors to better deal with this culture driven to be bigger, stronger, and more powerful in the sporting arena. Continued research regarding male body image and the effects of sport participation are needed to better understand the impact of sport. With the increasing interest in male body image, it is imperative for additional research to investigate not only how athletes affect sport, but also how sport affects athletes.

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