Self-presentation concerns may be why you’re not exercising. Is the gym intimidating? Do the clothes make you uneasy? Are you so out of shape or haven’t worked out in awhile that you don’t fit the norm? Are you worried about what other people are saying about you or that they’re watching you? A lot of people are concerned with how others view them.
The idea of the self-presentation perspective is about the process through which people monitor and control the impressions other people form of them in social situations (Schlenker & Leary, 1982). Self-presentational processes are powerful influences of behavior in exercise settings. Self-presentation can involve the selective presentation or omission of aspects of the self to create desired impressions on specific people. We want people to perceive us in a certain way. It’s like a protective mechanism.
Self-presentation is also referred to as impression management and can convey deliberate attempts to convey images of how people see themselves. Exercise settings can really expose the anxiety people may experience. This need for approval may bring about social anxiety when people doubt they will achieve a desired self-presentational goal. Types of social anxiety can include social physique anxiety and competitive anxiety.
Research supports the view that people will become anxious when they think they will make undesired impressions on others. People can become nervous in such situations because these evaluations have important implications for their attainment of goals. Nonetheless, people may also be worried about how they are regarded by strangers whom they will never see again. In short, people can be concerned about evaluation either because of its potential impact on how they see themselves or because of how it might affect how others view them.
If you’re worried about what others think of you at the gym, on the field, or on the court, you’re not reaching your potential. You’re letting others control your abilities. Many people don’t even realize they are allowing this to happen.
Leary (1992) suggested that self-presentation may play an important role in exercise behavior. Self-presentation can influence people’s motivation to exercise, the types of activities or environment people engage in, with whom they exercise, the level of effort they put forth, and their affective response to exercise. Self-presentation is an important concept to examine when trying to understand aspects of exercise behavior.
To gain a better understanding of self-presentation in exercise, I will evaluate the many motives for participating in physical activity. People enjoy the activities, like socializing with others, or may feel exercise reduces stress. Other people, however, take part in exercise for primarily self-presentational purposes. For example, enhancing one’s social image can be a valuable reward for exercising. There are also societal aesthetic standards or ideals that people value and pursue through their exercise involvements.
Many people want to fall into the ideal physique category and feel the societal pressures to look a particular way. People value how others view or judge them and often find themselves needing to present a certain image to be acceptable. To conform to these western societal ideals, women need to be thin and proportionally toned, while men need a larger muscular body. Unfortunately, most people do not fit perfectly into societal ideals. That “perfect” body type isn’t even achievable or realistic. The constant comparison to ideal images and inability to gain the “perfect body” has led to increasing negative body images of themselves. This tends to bring about the “all or nothing” attitude. “I’m not going to ever look that way, so I don’t care if I work out.” Hmmm, excellent reasoning. What if you did a little at a time, or just stayed active and kept your health in mind instead of your look?
People’s perceptions of themselves and how they form these images is valuable. Self-presentational processes have proven its presence in the exercise setting. People gather information to create these concepts partly based on how others view them. They have perceptions of other’s impressions and this effects their potential social interactions. Over the past twenty years, there have been quite a few studies of self-presentation in sport and exercise settings. This context is important to evaluate to better understand people’s reasons for exercise participation or lack there of, so practitioners, sport psychology consultants, personal trainers, and coaches can help their clients figure out what works for them and ultimately reach their full potential.