I love the Olympics. I love the ideals, I love the competitions, I love feeling like I actually understand the nuances of curling by the end of the Games. One thing I noticed while I was reading all of the media coverage leading up to the Olympics is that a lot of people feel the same way I do about the sports, yet many different opinions existed on the uniforms; some people love some of the uniforms, some people have strongly negative opinions about them. I’m not even focusing on a specific country, it seems to be a common experience. Everyone has a personal opinion about the uniforms.
One voice you don’t hear very often, however, is the athletes’. Whether an individual athlete likes the uniform, or doesn’t so much care for it, is not a matter for discussion. If you make the team, you are wearing the uniform. What if the uniform is uncomfortable? Or not particularly flattering? Or just plain ugly? Does a person's attire have any impact on performance? Short answer? Yes.
Concerns regarding self-presentation may impact performance. Feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious can influence attentional focus, increase anxiety symptoms, and change outcomes. Feeling fabulous can increase self-confidence and retains focus on the goal of the selected activity. Self-presentation concerns are not exclusive to athletes on a world stage. Exercisers share similar emotions.
How does this translate to you, as a fitness professional? What you say about appearance can be important for how your client approaches an exercise activity. Your words have potential to either increase or decrease a client’s perceptions that he or she is being evaluated negatively.
Comments about how celebrities looked in their clothes, comments about revealing sports uniforms, “she looked hot”, “he looked like he let himself go” are the type of remarks in which you most likely put little value, just a little social chit-chat. Offhand remarks, however, may be interpreted by your clients as indicators of how you are perceiving them. Whether that is right or wrong doesn’t matter if it is their perception.
You can choose to promote body confidence in your comments. Focusing on a person’s ability, what the person is able to do, how that person is growing in their ability to do it better than was possible before increases self-efficacy, which can increase self-confidence. Comments about others, even celebrities, about how confident a person looked, how composed a person was under pressure, how well he or she moved, or how restricted a movement appeared value what a person is able to do, over a simple snapshot of what that person looks like at a given moment. Positive, task-focused comments can set the tone for how your client interprets her own “uniform” and may set the stage for a fabulous performance.
Susan Sotir, Ph.D.
Education Specialist, Cybex Research Institute