Semester of Graduation



Master of Science (MS)



Document Type



Researchers identify the early stages of retirement as a key developmental period when many female athletes struggle with both body image disturbances and changes to identity. Body image disturbances and changes to identity may be especially challenging for former female athletes participating in aesthetic focused sports such as gymnastics, because physical appearance plays an important role in elite performance. This study utilized semi-structured, in-depth interviews with five former NCAA Division I artistic gymnasts to learn about their experiences and perceptions of body image and athletic identity in the early stages of retirement. Three main themes emerged from the interviews: (a) “Fit, Lean and Strong, not a Skinny Mini;” (b) Diverse Sources of Body Image Ideals and Identity; and (c) Protective Factors. In the first theme, athletes reported an ideal body image that was more athletic in nature than the traditional tall and thin ideal portrayed in the media. However, there was a fine line about not being “bulky and too masculine” and “getting fat” was a major body image fear reported by these athletes. In the second theme, participants reported an array of external sources contributing to thoughts about body image including social media, but underscored critical awareness about pros and cons of these different external influences. Finally, in the last theme, these retired athletes revealed protective factors such as supportive families and coaches and not immersing one’s identity completely into gymnastics that made the transition into retirement an easier process. Unlike previous research reports, these athletes did not experience extreme difficulties with their body image and identity in the early stages of retirement. In fact, these retired gymnasts showed that they could thrive beyond their time as competitive athletes due to healthy self-reflection, resilience, and several supporting factors.



Committee Chair

Garn, Alex



Included in

Life Sciences Commons