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Presentation of self, impression management and the period: A qualitative investigation of physically active women’s experiences in sport and exercise

Kolić, P, Thomas, L, Morse, CI and Hicks, KM (2022) Presentation of self, impression management and the period: A qualitative investigation of physically active women’s experiences in sport and exercise. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. ISSN 1041-3200

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Abstract

The menstrual cycle is an important biological process that can have implications for women’s participation in activities of daily life. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand women’s experiences, interactions, and perceptions of sport and exercise participation throughout the menstrual cycle. Five focus groups with 25 physically active women were conducted to investigate women’s perceptions of their menstrual cycle, their thoughts, feelings, and actions in sport and exercise environments throughout the menstrual cycle. The dramaturgical writings of Goffman were used to understand women’s self-presentation and experiences of interactional dynamics in sport and exercise environments. The findings highlight that the period was the most impactful aspect of the menstrual cycle on physically active women’s experiences of sport and exercise participation. The results explore strategies that the women adopted to manage their appearance, concerns that informed women’s decision-making processes, and the women’s purposeful impression management when undertaking sport and exercise during their period, particularly in interactions with male sport coaches. The findings emphasize the importance of unpacking the often-implicit norms and expectations associated with the period in order to normalize dialogues with practitioners (e.g., coaches) and support women’s continued participation in sport and exercise throughout the menstrual cycle. Lay summary: Following five focus groups with 25 physically active women, we found that concerns over what others might think if they found out that women were on their period led our participants to choose clothes selectively and suppress their discomfort in many interactions when participating in sport and exercise situations.Implications for practice Fear of leakage of menstrual blood and concerns over subsequent reactions of others (e.g., coaches, other gym members) makes the period particularly impactful on how women feel and act in sport and exercise situations. Knowledge of what it means to women to be on their period (e.g., selective choice of clothing, suppressing of any signs of discomfort) is important for practitioners in the field to create open and relaxed conversational atmospheres that allow opportunity for women to open up about their feelings and experiences if they choose to do so.

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