Thursday, August 9, 2012

Women's Bodies In the Olympics

Charlotte Dujardin
First a big congratulations to Charlotte Dujardin who has won a second gold for Britain by capturing the win in the individual dressage competition!

I have not yet heard a single controversial comment about the weight of a male competitor in the Olympic games, nor have I heard anything derogatory about a guy's looks. On the contrary, I did hear quite a bit about the sex appeal of one male swimmer. It seems no matter how successful a woman is, there have to be additional comments about her appearance. let's just take her down a notch, shall we? History making gold medallist, Gabby Douglas, while beautifully accomplishing her goals at the games has been criticized for her hair, of all things. Now, instead of focusing on her outstanding performances, everyone is all wrapped up in commenting on her hair, her friends and family defending her, and critics making rude comments about it. Nobody in Gabby's position should have to be concerned with anything other than her sport, but, unfortunately, criticism about how she looks is inescapable. We live in a world where women have not yet been able to avoid being judged on outer appearance, no matter how successful and accomplished they may be. This was also the case in the 1950's when Rosalind Franklin was horribly criticized by Watson and Crick for her looks and what she wore, despite her contributions in the science world. It's not just athletes who are subjected to harsh criticism.


Holly Mangold is accustomed to being in the spotlight, not just because of her successes and barrier breaking moves in sports. No, her name is well-known because of her size. In one of those backhanded compliments, one article claimed, "You could fit a half-dozen Lolo Joneses into Holley Mangold’s singlet, maybe more." The author then encouraged readers to not measure her in this way. Too late, you just opened that door. Let me ask you this question: Have you ever heard such derogatory commentary about a male weightlifter at the Olympics? Leisel Jones, nine-time Olympic medallist, was scrutinized in the public eye when her weight became an issue in the media. Forget that she qualified for her event and won a medal swimming with her team, let's focus on how much she weighs and how she looks in her bathing suit. Even the most qualified in the world are subject to some pie in the sky standard of beauty that really shouldn't apply to anyone. But we are taught from a young age that we are not OK as we are. Every girl knows that she need some scientifically-formulated smart molecule that's clinically proven to make her prettier.

Leisel Jones 2012

Even those who are considered to be acceptable in the looks department are criticized if they then attempt to use this to their advantage. Here is a really interesting blog post about Lolo Jones that addresses this and much more. The previous Fit and Feminist post addresses much of what I point out here. Check out both if you can. As a woman, you can't win. Either you're too ugly or fat or you look great but aren't allowed to flaunt it. We are put down if we play their game or stand our ground. Is it true that women must be kept in a box? We can't just go out and do our sport, we must also look a certain way, a way that society dictates. Women are still attempting to push forward in sports and be taken seriously. There have been huge steps forward in this Olympics, but there is still a long way to go. The one good thing I have seen is that more people are willing to counter these disturbing belittling comments against women in sports. I hope that trend continues and we can support all female athletes more fully in the next Olympics.


  1. You are so right. One of the few things I would change about the world if I could..

  2. Thank you, Deb. It makes me sad more than anything.

  3. Love this post- hate the fact that we actually have to talk about it, but thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel. As a life long athlete, I am very aware of the chatter about women athlete's weight, even at the age group level. I've had 2 kids, I've been injured, I have been well above and below "race weight" (whatever that is supposed to be) and it's amazing how many people comment to my face about my weight. Forget that I have managed to be a successful athlete at various different weights, apparently I am only athletic and on top of my game when I am "skinny". Ugh, sorry that I had to vent. :-)

  4. Vent away! This is the perfect place to do it. I have been there myself, so I definitely hear you. I really hope there's a new trend around the corner where athletes can be appreciated for their skills, and commentators will focus on accomplishments without feeling the need to note how a woman looks.

  5. Excellent post...thanks for writing.

    Look at the message we're sending female athletes too. I was about to say young girls, but no, the message is reaching all ages.

    Did you notice when Ryan Lochte's mother said that he has a lot of "one night stands" (which Lochte later said was his mother not understanding terminology and meaning "dates"), the media response was to laugh and say "Hide you daughters!" Yet Lolo says she's a virgin and the media freaks out at her for being an attention whore? (And if a woman said she went on one night stands, she'd probably be called a regular whore?). Maybe I'm looking into it too much.

    This was linked off that blog you linked to. I'm assuming you saw it, but if not: 2320 retweets, 595 favorites 28 retweets, 32 favorites

  6. Thank you, Becki. Absolutely, the message reaches everyone. It's partly why society tends to stay stuck in outdated thinking. No, you are right about the way the media treats men and women. There's no doubt that eyebrows around the world would be raised if one of the ladies had said she had a lot of one night stands, but of it's boys being boys when men do it.

    I did see the awful tweet. It's pretty shocking that this kind of abusive insult is laughed off by so many.