The Girl in the Pressbox: Where are our female role models?

This is what you get when you search female athletes.

This is what you get when you search female athletes.

The hypersexualization of women has been noted and you’ve likely heard all about it in your women and gender studies classes so I won’t regurgitate it here, except to say that I’m proud of Aerie, American Eagle’s lingerie brand for showing the most vulnerable demographic that perfect isn’t real. It’s airbrushed. And they won’t stand for it.

But where do sports come into this discussion? It’s sports. Sports are about talent and power and strength, not sex. So why then does Sports Illustrated have a swimsuit edition? I’m not here to judge, but in a magazine in which most content is dominated by football, basketball and baseball, where do half-naked women come into play? Well it’s our society. It’s what’s to be expected now I guess. It’s what the subscribers want and would be furious to see go.

I’d venture to say ESPN Magazine’s body issue is a classier version of the swimsuit issue. It’s about muscle and athletes and honestly, it shows you the true essence of an athletic body. There’s a huge difference. I can’t say it’s ideal, but it is a notable difference. Why do we need to see their bodies? Probably just to compete with Sports Illustrated. And it’s been noted that female athletes are still put in compromising positions in the edition.

The trend of viewing female athletes this way is just an example of the broad picture painted in society. Women are so often viewed as an object for a man’s pleasure. Sometimes it’s blatant and other times it’s subtle, but it’s there.

With female athletes who already have to work so hard to be taken seriously in sports, does it really help them to pose nude or in swimsuits? I don’t see how it could. We lose respect and we stop seeing their achievements for what they are.

Female athletes, in general, are much more highly scrutinized and objectified. Personal lives seem to be much more important when we’re talking about female as opposed to male athletes. And don’t forget those swimsuit images that pop up on Google when you search their names. I guess maybe it’s crazy to think that I might actually want to see an image of them playing their sport. For what it’s worth, the search terms, “male athletes,” isn’t much more inspiring. There’s very little athletic competition in those pictures either.

You have to specifically enter "Alex Morgan playing soccer" in order to receive a result like this. (Photo by Tim Shaffer/REUTERS/File)

You have to specifically enter “Alex Morgan playing soccer” in order to receive a result like this. (Photo by Tim Shaffer/REUTERS/File)

Why do I need to know that Alex Morgan, of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, got a leopard print onesie for Christmas? I didn’t, but thanks for having my back USA Today Sports. I don’t know whether this says more about the newsworthiness of journalism today or about the way women are portrayed in sports, but I don’t think it can say good things about either.

I don’t know what got this on my mind, except when I was thinking about what I would write for this week, I wondered about what often comes to mind when people think of women’s sports. The more I searched the Internet for recent news, I saw the same two words popping up all over the place, “sex sells.”

Does it though? It’s certainly there, but does it really work? Or have we maybe taken a few steps out of the Stone Age and started to recognize that female athletes aren’t objects, but actually work really hard to achieve what they do? And maybe we’ve realized that they aren’t really that much different from their male counterparts after all. We can’t ignore that there has been progress, but we also can’t forget that it’s still there.

It’s honestly demoralizing to know that some female athletes are willing to stoop to the level of essentially selling their image instead of their talents. Yes maybe it’s empowering for them to know that they look good and they have the right to do as they wish, but in a culture already so bent on barely giving young girls a chance, wouldn’t it do wonders to show them that body image and looking “sexy” aren’t the only things that matter? Wouldn’t it bolster their self-esteem if they had female role models who showed them what power truly means? And wouldn’t it be empowering to teach them that who they are is far more important than what they look like?

I didn’t have that growing up and I don’t think many did. So many of us were raised by mothers on a diet and a culture that ingrained ads for the “South Beach Diet” in our minds. And unfortunately, many of these ideals that were pushed on us had little to do with health and more to do with being thin. And there is a difference.

So if we’re so worried about this obesity epidemic, then that can’t be our reasoning for pushing ultra thin models at us or showing us athletes in bathing suits, which some commenters on a Buzzfeed article about Aerie’s new ad campaign suggested. No, we need to have these athletes pushing health—not body image.

Being fit and being skinny is not the same thing, and they should never be confused.

(Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

So when I see athletes like Brittney Griner shattering the stereotypes of what is expected of a female athlete, it’s encouraging. She won’t be posing in a swimsuit. Instead of viewing her as an object, we are forced to view her as what she is—an athlete. And isn’t that the way it always should be?

Maybe this hypersexualization issue is fading from our view. Maybe strong athletes will stand up for themselves and refuse to buy into this culture that tries to tell them they have to be something else. And those are the athletes who get my respect.

Girls can’t afford to be scrutinized more than they already are. It’s rampant and there are so few places they can look and see something that they can be comfortable with who they are. Maybe our Barbies taught us we could be astronauts or politicians, but they didn’t teach us that we could be anything but thin, so I hope someone does.

Where better to start than with the athletes girls already look up to?

2 thoughts on “The Girl in the Pressbox: Where are our female role models?

  1. Isn’t this tragic! We need to all become a little more media-aware I think, it has too much power at the moment. I wrote an article on the role models of children, myself and I think it expands on this article slightly. If you’re interested it can be found at:

  2. Pingback: The Girl in the Pressbox: Why Barbie and Sports Illustrated? – Speakeasy Magazine

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