Sport & Exercise Science

Disability can lead to lower self-esteem

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Disability and self-confidence are explored in a study on the body image of athletes in the Special Olympics from the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology.

Society’s view of the ideal body as portrayed by able-bodied and airbrushed models rarely includes diverse shapes, sizes and abilities.

Stigma theory suggests that individuals with disabilities possess “discrediting attributes” that disqualify them from meeting culturally constructed appearance norms.

This stigmatisation of marginalised groups often leads to negative attitudes, discrimination and exclusion, which can contribute to decreased self-worth.

A previous study discovered that individuals with intellectual disabilities reported lower self-esteem than the general population.

This internalisation of being the “other” and not meeting appearance demands can also contribute to body dissatisfaction, which is a strong predictor of clinical eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours.

Numerous studies have investigated body image concerns of able-bodied athletes and several studies have explored self-perceptions and body image of athletes with physical disabilities; however, athletes with intellectual disabilities have been largely ignored and understudied.

Now a new study, published in the July issue of Clinical Sport Psychology explores the body image of male and female athletes participating in the Special Olympics programme.

For more information on helping those with disabilities succeed in sport read Teaching Disability Sport.

You can also check out this informative article from – Self-Esteem Journals, Prompts, PDFs. is an online platform that curates and creates science-based positive psychology resources for professionals (psychologists, therapists, coaches, etc.).

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels


1 Comment

  1. Patent Lawyer says

    I can’t say this surprises me! Then again, I know some disabled people who really are towers of strength, they’ve been through some of the worst thing and they’ve really learnt to be strong.

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