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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

The Relationship between Physical Self-Presentational and Social Physique Anxiety


In modern society, everyone is busy with work and life; however, people need to exercise or perform physical activities to counteract weight, stress, and fitness debilitation. In addition, some people exercise to manage their body image. The purpose of exercise is to present a healthy, emphatic life image. Conroy and Motl (2003) argued that people exhibited a desire to show their active abilities, to assume their lovely sport’s image, or to present their socially desirable traits in public settings. They explained that doing exercise could upgrade a person’s expectative image in a kind of body-image management. Some people think that a good body image is linked to a life of happiness, success, social acceptance, etc. Just so, some people think fatness is linked to a life of laziness, stupidity, chaos, etc. Most people want to present a good body image to dissimulate bad body image to others. Therefore, many people who believe that having an attractive image or socially desirable traits is linked to having a good personality that is “physical attractiveness stereotype” (Dion, Bersheid & Walster, 1972).

A number of studies have emphasized the problems of people participating in physical activities’ based on motivational factors that include having a better, more healthy life, pursuing the attainment of attractiveness, losing weight, gaining social support and acceptance, as well as creating social opportunities, etc (Buckworth, 2000; Grove & Dodder, 1982; Wankel & Berger, 1990). In such cases, physical self-presentation is the key to their participative motivation. However, Bane and McAuley (1996) theorized that when people could not confirm the possibility of success from presenting positive body image, they felt higher levels of anxiety, which obstructed their participation in physical activities. People hesitated to present bad or socially undesirable images (e.g., due to being overweight, for example) in public settings because social situations could create negative feelings of physique evaluation or low self-esteem (Hart, Leary & Rejeski, 1989). Therefore, people with self-consciousness related to fatness are not going to be engaged in settings that could create social physique anxiety (e.g., swimming pools). Significantly, the relationship between physical self-presentational and social physique anxiety are mutually effect to each other.

Physical Self-Presentation

Self-presentation, also known as impression management, is a process by which people utilize efforts to manage impressions in the manner they will be communicated by others (Schlenker, 1980). Self-presentational processes pervade all aspects of our lives, including our sport or exercise behaviors. That appearance presents realistic images may not be true, but it is not really cheating to others, either. Nowadays, people communicate with each other very frequently in social settings, therefore, self-presentation is becoming an important factor in communicational situations. Chang (1999) explained that “self-presentation” was defined as a factor by which people who wanted to control their transmissive body image satisfy their expectations in the hope that the information received by others will meet their expectations. Sometimes, people will judge others based on their own imaginations, receiving information without proof. Some people prefer to present positive exercise images in the hopes of controlling others’ impressions. For example, a man may always wear athletic outfits to the gymnasium, but that doesn’t mean he really likes to exercise. He may just want to present a good-healthy body image to the girls in the same gymnasium.

Leary and Kowalski (1990) addressed one possible theoretical model of self-presentation that could serve as a foundation for developing an instrument by which to discuss and measure the issue. In this model, self-presentation included two factors: impression motivation (IM) and impression construction (IC). The researchers defined impression motivation as reflective of the desire to control the perceptions and impressions of others. To define the second factor, impression construction, they referred to how people “change their behavior to affect others’ impressions of them”. Self-presentation could affect cognition, emotion and behavior, including exercise situation behaviors (Leary, 1992). According to Martin, Sinden and Fleming (2000), many people exercise to enhance their physical appearance. On other hand, many exercise to create socially-desirable impressions that they are vigorous, self-confident and optimized. Several studies have supported the idea that physical self-presentation is the most affected factor in physical activity (Crawford & Eklund, 1994; Eklund & Crawford, 1994). Hence, the relationship between physical self-presentation and physical activity is very significant.

Social Physique Anxiety

The concept of social physique anxiety is derived from social anxiety that is developed when youth are in their teens. Then, they will focus on their physical development, especially when the focus from their friends. “Social physique anxiety” is an anxiety created when people feel unsatisfied with their bodies and they worry about negative feedback from others (Lu, & Hung, 1999). Hart, Leary and Rejeski (1989) introduced the concept of social physique anxiety to represent the anxiety rather than the bodily concerns related to a person’s ability to achieve specific physical behavior and present the expected body image.

Persons having high-level social physique anxieties could not participate in situations that explored the body or present their physiques. Because social physique anxiety concerns identity, it is a potential barrier to personal exercise participation. A number of studies have emphasized the problems of distorted body image and dissatisfaction with body weight, the symptoms of unhealthy weight control and the eating disorders among adolescent girls as the products of social pressure (Powel & Hendricks, 1999). Most girls create unrealistic goals to achieve their ideal body images. However, when they are dissatisfied with their body shapes, they choose not to participate in those events that could optimize their bodies. In other words, people, especially females, will perceive a high-level of social physique anxiety, which decreases their participation in physical activities, leaving their aspirations unfulfilled. So, Crawford and Eklund (1994) found significant relationships among social physique anxiety and participative places, dressing and the degree of the physique presentation.

The Relationship Between Exercise and Self-Presentational and Social Physique Anxiety

In physical activity situations, people have different degrees of self-presentational confidence, so they have different degrees of social physique anxiety. Lu and Hung (1999) found that social physique anxiety was an important mental structure for self-presentation, and the relationship between self-presentational and social physique anxiety was of significance. For example, if a person has low physical self-presentational efficacy, he or she could easily have high-level social physique anxiety (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). Physique is an important aspect of the self, and a favorable evaluation is desired. When one perceives that he or she is unable to make a favorable impression, one will not have the confidence to present him or herself. As a result, one will have high-level social physique anxiety. Bane and McAuley (1996) suggested that when a woman didn’t have continence presenting her expectative image, she usually had a high-level social physique anxiety that made her blind to other, attractive body images. This is a reason why women tend to focus on losing weight quickly. They want to decrease their social physique anxiety by losing weight. Nevertheless, they generally forget the real reason for their anxiety, which is the psychology factor that controls their perceptions or cognition, for example, their self-presentational efficacy.

Arkin (1981) thought that when people believe they don’t have the ability to present perfect images, they intentionally escape social evaluation. In other words, they utilize escapism to protect their self-esteem and avoid presenting themselves in public. Furthermore, in physical activity situations, people pay more attention to the physique information. Bain, Wilison and Chaikind’s research (1989) indicated that the main obstacle for overweight women participating in physical activity is that they worry about their figures, public attentiveness and the judgment of others. Hence, there will be a cycle; when a person doesn’t have enough self-presentational efficacy, he or she will exhibit social physique anxiety and refuse to participate in physical activity, which will produce unsatisfactory emotions related to their body-images and make them even fatter.
Nowadays, some people utilize exercise as a tool for self-presentation. However, others fear that participating in exercise will demonstrate their physical inabilities. On one hand, they want to present socially desirable traits. On the other hand, they worry that their figures will receive evaluations from others. Therefore, they choose to escape from situations that could show their true figures. This over-valuing of other’s evaluations of their bodies lead to low-level self-presentational efficacy and high-level social physique anxiety. In accordance with Sonstroem and Morgan’s (1989) essay “Exercise and self-esteem: The rationale and model,” physical self-efficacy could create physical self-competence and raise general self-esteem.

In addition, people believe that their efficacy could be developed and influenced by four main sources. Firstly, the most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences. Secondly, they believe that they could create and strengthen self-belief in efficacy through the vicarious experiences provided by social models. In addition, efficacy could be attained by strengthening people’s beliefs through social persuasion that they have what it takes to succeed. Finally, modifying self-beliefs of efficacy could reduce people’s stress reactions and alter their negative emotional proclivities when interpreting their physical states (Bandura, 1994). People can utilize these concepts to enhance their physical self-presentational efficacy, decrease social physique anxiety, and maintain exercise activities to increase their attractiveness and improve their physical fitness.


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