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How perfectionism is effecting the body image and eating habits of a rhythmic gymnast

University of Physical Education (TE) – Budapest

(Testnevelési Egyetem)

BSc – Recreation Management and Health Promotion

How perfectionism is effecting the body image and eating habits of a Rhythmic Gymnast

Consultant: Lilla Török Author: Viktoria Greta Lengyel

Faculty of Psychology and Sport Psychology


Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Choice of topic 3

I. Review of Literature 3

1. Rhythmic gymnastics 3

1.1 About the sport 3

1.2 Perfectionism in sport 4

1.3 Other aesthetic women activities in comparison with RG 4

1.4 Recreational vs. competitive RG and the role of demand 5

1.5 Influencing roles of family and coaches 6

2. Body image 11

2.1 Body image 11

2.2 Body image in rhythmic gymnastics 12

2.3 The role of body image 14

2.4 Eating disorders 15

2.5 Eating disorders in rhythmic gymnastics 15

II. Research 17

3. Research proposition 17

3.1 Objective 17

3.2 Questions 17

3.3 Hypothesis 18

4. Methods 18

4.1 Subjects 18

4.2 Methods and procedures 18

4.3 Questionnaire 18

5. Results 18

5.1 Statistics 18

6. Discussion 18

6.1 Research questions evaluation 18

III. Summary 18

7. Summary 18

7.1 Objective 18

7.2 Methods 18

7.3 Results 18

7.4 Conclusion 18

8. Abstract 18

8.1 Objective 18

8.2 Methods 18

8.3 Results 18

8.4 Conclusion 18

9. References and Literature 18

9.1 Bibliographic references 18

9.2 Internet source 19

10. Attachments 19

10.1 Survey 19


Choice of topic

Given the time I spent as a competitive rhythmic gymnast (15years), the level of my love for it and my knowledge in the area – it was a straightforward decision I’ll research within rhythmic gymnastics (RG). The area I ended up picking is something following me all throughout my life. There are those kind of changes that take an irreversible effect in someone’s life. Having been a perfectionist gymnast, soon I very first heard rumors about sleight weight issues in my early teens; the impact on me could never be undone. I wasn’t aware of the damage until my late twenties. That’s when I first dared looking back realizing how my gymnastic career not just ruled my young years but shaped me into the person I am these days. The syndrome is well known in gymnastics and other aesthetic sports. I am very keen on running my very own research on finding out, how the level of perfectionism and body image distortion might go hands in hands.

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I. Review of Literature

1. Rhythmic gymnastics

1.1 About the sport

Rhythmic Gymnastics is a sport based on heavy classical ballet work spiced up with modern dance elements and high level juggling skills. Routines are performed with music – making all the above into a piece of art.

RG has individual and group disciplines. A group consists of 5 gymnasts, showcasing multiple apparatus simultaneously. The 5 apparatus Rhythmic Gymnasts perform their astonishing routines with are: Rope, Hoop, Ball, Clubs and Ribbon – or the combination of those in case of group routines.

Flexibility, advanced ballet skills (including balance positions, turns and leaps), acrobatic maneuvers and musical interpretation all play important rules in a Rhythmic exercise. However, the highest value in a routine’s score depends on how much risk a gymnast takes with the apparatus. They often throw the apparatus very high into the air, losing sight of it while performing several elements, followed by seemingly impossible catches. With such high level skills elite gymnasts can seriously impress the audience. However just keeping the apparatus in motion during the full length of the routine already requires many years of training. Apart from being synchronized with the chosen music, Group Gymnasts must also have to execute their dance sequences being synchronized with each other.

“Combining the elegance of the ballet with the drama of the theatre, Rhythmic Gymnastics bursts with glamour, blurring the boundaries between sport and art [1]“ – is how the sport is described by the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), the sports international governing body on their website.

But what can be wrong with such a beautifully described sport? For a quick insight I borrow a well-described paragraph from a previous related research:

“In Rhythmic Gymnastics success is strongly influenced by visual appeal. Aesthetic appearance and leanness have particular relevance both in performance and appearance. The combination of excessive exercise, reduced food intake and the high level of stress in training and competition, determine a lean, almost anorexic-like physique of elite Rhythmic Gymnasts. The pressure, put on athletes, in order to maintain weight levels, is an important risk factor. In addition, the lack of medical control and coach organization, especially on sub-elite gymnasts, may be a further important risk factor. Just as the special clothing, used during competitions that can even whet the problem of weight control [2].“

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1.2 Perfectionism in sport

Athletes often put excessive pressure on themselves to live up to a specific standard of perfectionism.

Perfectionism has been defined as “a network of cognitions, including expectations and interpretations of events and evaluations of oneself and others, characterized by the setting of unrealistic standards, rigid and indiscriminate adherence to these, and the equating of self-worth and performance” (Burns, 1983. p. 223).

Nordin, Harris, & Cumming (2003) believed that the drive for perfectionism in sport is related to eating disturbances found among rhythmic gymnasts. According to Nordin et al. (2003) perfectionism exits within the elite competitive range in gymnastics. It is believed that possessing perfectionism is correlated to eating disturbances found within elite Rhythmic Gymnasts due to its aesthetical importance (Nordin et al., 2003). Rhythmic Gymnastics as an aesthetic discipline places high emphasis on having a particularly slender body type to perform the required elements. Therefore it is expected that the athletes would strive to have that thin body shape as a requirement.

1.3 Other aesthetic women activities in comparison with RG

Perfectionism is not only a trait of many Rhythmic Gymnasts but it is a common characteristic found within participants involved in other aesthetic sports and activities such as ballet and gymnastics (Krasnow, Mainwaring, & Kerr, 1999).

A study of Bettle et al. (2001) also supports this idea. It reveals that female athletes practicing aesthetic type of sports tend to be less satisfied with their appearance and are likely to lose weight despite their low BMI. Study points out however that it doesn’t necessarily mean these athletes are dissatisfied with their actual body image. Instead, they may see a different version of their real body image at times, resulting in their perception differing from the reality.

According to a study lead by Sundgot-Borgen and Torstveit (2004), “female athletes competing in aesthetic sports showed higher rates of eating disorder symptoms (42%) than are observed in endurance sports (24%), technical sports (17%), or ball game sports (16%)” (Cited in Klinkowski et al., 2007, p. 108). Above figures may be caused by performers having to wear tight fitting costumes accentuating their body type, resulting in gymnasts having more negative perception towards their body image (Sundgot-Borgen, & Tostveit, 2004).

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1.4 Recreational vs. competitive RG and the role of demand

Society often pressurizes people having to attain an “ideal body through diet and exercise however athletes are further exposed to the internal pressures of their sport which often overemphasizes the link between peak performance and the maintaining of a specific weight” (Francisco, Alarcao, & Narciso, 2012, p. 266). Peak performance’s definition is “an episode of superior functioning where an individual performs up to and exceeds their full potential” (Privette, 1983, p. 1361). Peak performance refers to a state also called peak experience, that is the zone of optimal functioning and flow a competitor keeps striving to achieve (Wells, 2010). It describes to the short duration while an athlete manages putting all pieces together, according to their very best, attaining a fluid feel and outstanding individual achievement (Wells, 2010). Peak performance has a valuable role indicating that an athlete attempts keeping up their peak performance during practice no matter what it might take. Competitors often set high targets to themself that might seem impossible to achieve. This might make them pursue activities not necessary beneficial on a long term. Hausenblas and Carron (1999), just like Toro, Galilea, Martinez-Mallen, Salamer, Capdevila, & Maria (2005) describe that the inner stress caused by sports can have connection to peak performance and a defined weight targeted (as cited in Franciso et al., 2012). The thought of body mass pressurizes many leading athletes. In certain sports losing weight is utterly important for the performer, strongly believing it is big part to attain their peak performance (Dosil & Gonzalez-Oya, 2008).

Athletes have a higher need of caloric intake than those not leading an active life with around 500-1000 extra calories in every hour of training (Dosil, 2008). Considering the many hours of weekly training that a Rhythmic Gymnast has, they shouldn’t follow a nutrition plan that those inactive (Dosil, 2008). Performers of different sports should look out for their ideal nutritional intake (Dosil, 2008). Dosil states (2008, p. 4), “Gymnasts would seek a minimum ideal weight to compete more effectively”

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