Athleticism over sexualization


Stefan Brending, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

Lindsey Vonn is said to be the most award-winning female skier of all-time, so why do people care if she is smiling in a photo?

By Kaitlyn McTigue, Benilde-St. Margaret's School

Three-time gold medal winner, Lindsey Vonn, is said to be the most award-winning female skier of all-time. Before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn was showcased on the Sports Illustrated cover––something that is very rare for women––in a pose similar to skier AJ Kitt, who was showcased on the Sports Illustrated cover 18 years prior. But unlike Kitt who was acknowledged for his talent and successes, Von was trashed by the media for her “sexual pose.” It was “sexual” because she was smiling at the camera instead of looking down the hill; she was pictured without her helmet on. Who knew that smiling was a sexy pose?

Brandi Chastain, retired soccer player, Olympic gold-medalist, and Women’s World Cup champion, is known for two things. One: scoring the winning penalty kick for the U.S women’s soccer team in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China. Two: her reaction after. Chastain, like many soccer players, celebrated after her goal; her celebration included taking off her shirt. The picture was seen around the world, and everyone knew about the new World Champs––not because they watched the game but because of the picture with the girl with her shirt off. Chastain was quickly bashed for her “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” act. This celebratory act is the same thing that many male soccer athletes have done before, yet, they received zero criticism. So, why is such a celebration okay for males but not for females?

MMA fighter Ronda Rousey is the longest-ever reigning UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and first Olympic medalist to hold a UFC title. The athlete, who appears in movies (Furious 7 and Entourage) and on Sports Illustrated, is always criticized for her body. It is “too huge and masculine.” The headline might read, “Ronda Rousey is the world’s most dominant athlete,” but instead of receiving praise, she receives backlash saying that she must be on steroids because she is “built like a man.” But yet, why are male athletes never criticized for being too strong?

These women––and these are just a few of many possible examples––have assumptions made about them because sports fans and the sports media are focusing on sexualizing them rather than looking at their athleticism.

Responding in this type of way degrades the accomplishments of these athletes and turns the focus towards something that should have never been in a part of the conversation in the first place. When female athletes are sexualized, it encourages people to support women’s sports for the wrong reason: their body instead of their talents.

Lindsey Vonn’s smiling at the camera should not have been considered a sexual pose; instead, the focus should have been on what she was going to bring to the Olympics Games. Brandi Chastain’s removal of her shirt should not have been the headline, but rather, the focus should have been on the fact that she scored the winning goal. Ronda Rousey should not be criticized for her strong appearance; she should be looked at as the dominate athlete she is.

Sports fans and sports media must change the way they look at female athletes when they come up in the news, in magazines, or in pictures, so that they can be respected for their true athletic talent.

This story was originally published on Knight Errant on January 6, 2020.