espnW launches ‘Body Image Confidential’ that addresses challenges facing female athletes

Today, in conjunction with the Women + Sports, Chicago event, espnW launched its newest multi-media platform, Body Image Confidential – highlighting the complicated balancing act of maintaining top physical condition for women athletes in the United States, while battling expectations of femininity and physicality. As part of Body Image Confidential, espnW distributed an anonymous survey to more than 200 Division I female student-athletes nationwide that included personal questions about physicality, eating disorders and the pressure to be pretty in sports. The results are available now on


Through the surveys, espnW found that:

  • 54 percent of athletes spend 15 hours or more per week devoted to physical conditioning of their bodies;
  • 14 percent of athletes answered “yes” to having had an eating disorder, while 12 of 37 rowers – or 32 percent – answered “yes” when asked if they’ve ever had an eating disorder;
  • 20 percent of athletes said their coaches have called them fat;
  • Nearly 70 percent of the surveyed athletes feel pressure to be pretty;
  • Two out of every three athletes say they worry about long-term damage to their bodies.


This content package includes an analysis of the survey’s findings, a feature story about the prevalence of eating disorders in rowing, a first-person account from a former Olympic gymnast and a photo essay of athlete-submitted images.


“As we cover women’s issues through the lens of sports, we noticed more and more high-profile pros having to deal with attacks on their appearance and physicality. And we wondered how much college athletes, whose goal it is to maintain peak physical condition, were struggling with these same issues,” said Jenn Holmes, deputy editor, espnW. “It’s not new that women struggle with body image, but I was so encouraged that the young women we surveyed don’t fear strength. Strong really is the new beautiful.”


To coincide with the content launch, Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie, Chicago Red Stars and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Christen Press, and Olympic beach volleyball bronze medalist April Ross took part in a “Body Confidential” panel at the second espnW: Women + Sports, Chicago event to discuss body image in women’s sports. The panel focused on the findings of the research, the panelists’ stories and how they apply to women nationwide.


For additional information on the “Body Confidential” research and to learn more about the espnW: Women + Sports, Chicago event, please visit or follow on Twitter with @espnW and #espnWchicago.