Female Athleticism: A Cause for Celebration

by Amanda K.

The women’s rights movement dates back to 1884 when a group of women gathered together to fight for the equality of women. Since then, women have made great strides towards equal opportunities for females around the world. Girls growing up in today’s society are experiencing a very different world compared to women who were born in the 1800’s. While the movement has brought great change to the world, women are still fighting against injustices they face on a daily basis. Although women are able to vote and be seen outside the home, they are still viewed as the inferior sex, especially in the sporting arena. Although women are able to participate in sport which wasn’t always the case, they are paid less and as a result are given less opportunities to pursue professional careers in sport. Because of the inequalities between male and female sports, females in sports are not taken as serious as competitive male athletes; basically, they viewed as less feminine women.

On average, in professional sports, women are paid only 77% of professional male athlete’s salaries. Although this percentage varies among sports, it is consistent that males are paid higher salaries. Due to lower salaries, in order to support a comfortable lifestyle female athletes must find other sources of income to make ends meet. For some female athletes this means sexualizing their bodies by posing naked in order to make extra money on the side. Although posing naked has received negative opinion of the general population, posing naked not only benefits the wallet of the athlete, but has created a movement to accept female athletes and their body image.  Amongst these females are Gabriele Reece; a professional volleyball player who posed for playboy in 2001, Hope Solo; a professional soccer player who posed for ESPN in 2013, and Lolo Jones; Olympic track and field athlete who posed semi-nude for ESPN in 2009.

Women participating in sport challenge the image of femininity. According to the definition of femininity, females are supposed to seemingly have feminine qualities at first glance. This means having petite bodies, smelling nice, and ultimately being weak. Females who participate at the highest level of sport spend hours in the gym to build muscle in order to compete against the best athletes in the world. As a result, female athletes are considered less feminine due to their large muscles and aggressive behaviour while playing sports. Since female athletes don’t traditionally fit the feminine role they are stereotyped as “butch” or “lesbian”. Female athletes posing naked sends a message to the public demonstrating that the female athletic body type is nothing to be ashamed of but instead something to celebrate. I think this message is very important to portray to young female athlete growing up with body image issues.

Personally, growing up an elite athlete I always struggled with body image. While all my friends were very petite, I had large thighs as a result of playing soccer and figure skating. I was always self-conscious wearing shorts or finding the right pair of jeans that fit my thighs properly as well as my waist. Over the years’ companies such as Nike have brought attention to this issue with their “real women” campaign that highlights the acceptance of having big thighs, shoulders, etc. This campaign was a pivotal for me and allowed me to finally begin to accept my athletic body type instead of being ashamed of it.  Instead of trying to hide my muscles it became a cause for celebration. I think it so important for female athletes to continue to empower young female athletes in this sense to increase the acceptance of females in sport. Growing up, I wish there were more female athletes who stood for what these campaigns are standing for. As a result, females will be able to further themselves in sport and bring more positive attention to female sports.




9 responses

  1. I can strongly relate to growing up as an athlete and struggling with body image. There are so many mixed messages portrayed in the media depicting the ideal body image for women. I think that it is common to some degree that all female athletes are unsatisfied with parts of their overall body image. I believe that all of these mixed messages potentially turn away athletes from participating to avoid negative comments and the feeling of not looking the ideal way. I remember being called scrawny and weak as I was a tall and lean hockey player surrounded by more muscular and shorter female hockey players. I did not fit the norm and figured that some people assumed that I was not a great player and did not take me as seriously as some of the other girls. I also competed competitively in track and field and remember some girls being very intimidated by having to wear tight shirts and short shorts for practices and races. I sometimes felt uncomfortable in my body when I would compare myself to the other girls that I was surrounded by in the track and field atmosphere.

    I agree that women who continue to participate in sport and challenge the stereotypical “ideal body image” may help create an increase in female participation. I think that there have already been many advances in advertising different body types and showing that women of all shapes and sizes are capable of success. Women are role models for other women and we have the most power to encourage women to feel comfortable in their skin and not let the media be a factor for declining participation.

    Rachel B

  2. Great article Amanda! I believe that feminism is still something that women are working to promote worldwide, and although women have made a lot of progress there is still a lot to be developed. Sport has been a male dominated activity for so long that it can be challenging for women to be appreciated and compensated equally. Inequality in sport is one of the many issues surrounding why feminism is relevant and necessary for women to succeed on the same level as men.
    As a female athlete, it is truly disheartening to see how little women receive compared to men in media coverage, funding, and salary. Women cannot support themselves through professional sport the way that men can. It is unfortunate that women have to rely on sponsorship and advertising to make enough money to live comfortably; however, the most unreasonable part of their situation is how much judgement society and the media put on these women for their actions. When female athletes partake in jobs for extra funding, they are usually portrayed to be traditionally feminine (overall weak and petite as you stated while defining what it means to be ‘feminine’), rather than being in strong and powerful positions that reflect their dominance in sport.
    I also had a lot of issues with body issues growing up and now I realise that societies standard of beauty is so narrow that it is almost completely unattainable. Women who model sports clothing are size 0 and without mass muscle, because of this the image of an athlete is to be skinny rather than strong. There needs to be changes in how strong women are represented, and I believe that we, as a society, are making steps towards changing this. Recently when Gigi Hadid modeled the new Nike athletic line, the company got a lot of backlash from their campaign because they chose to use another extra small model that has barely any athletic background. I am glad that people are speaking out about how underrepresented female athletes are, representation and admitting there is an issue are the first steps to making people more aware of inequality. If there are changes made to campaigns and advertisements, maybe a new generation of girls will not have to admit to body issues.

  3. Great post Amanda! I think it’s important that you have touches on issues of body image as well as female apologetic behaviours. Females in sport are rejecting aspects of hegemonic feminine ideals but exuding strength and aggression in sport. These are qualities that are not valued for women to possess and which can result in females being shut out in sport.

    Females may engage in female apologetic behaviours in order to negate these rejections. Female apologetic behaviour can come in forms of body image as well as the acceptance of a lower salaries. Females may manage their appearance in ways of maintain a feminine shape to be more accepted sports culture. Doing so will make them more appealing and allow them to possibly attract more attention. Female athletes may also accept low salaries offers because they feel it is the only option for them to continue participation. They are able to recognize that females are devalued in sport and feel like speaking out on issues of salaries would cause them more harm. Since speaking out would not fit in the passive idea of females.

    The female apologetic raise questions of females position in society. Having female athletes feel the need to conform to societal norms within sport is harmful. Having females that are able to stand up against stereotypes will help to eliminate them. It’s important that as future leaders of sport and leisure we empower females to be strong and confident with themselves. Improving the perception of females in sport will help progress a feminist society.

  4. Great post, Amanda! It touched on a ton of super important points concerning the unequal treatment of women in sport and the need to normalize the ‘athletic’ female body type.
    As I have mentioned in other blog comments, I don’t understand how female professional athletes make that much less than their male counterparts. Granted, I understand that men’s teams bring in large revenue, which would in turn allow for a bigger payday. However women aren’t marketed, promoted or supported in the same way that men are from the get-go. Perhaps if women’s sports were celebrated on the same level, or even remotely more than they are now, a larger following would be accumulated. This issue I believe boils down to an organizational level… And it starts when we are just young – We aren’t given the same opportunities with programs – There isn’t much room for development/participation outside of high school – Focus on development/skills are a priority for boys, which leads to a higher level of play, which makes games more exciting to watch, ergo they have more of a following/profitability from consumers… It’s a vicious cycle.
    Touching on the body image issues of female athletes, growing up I was always super heavy. I had thick thighs, broad shoulders, a large behind and was dense through the stomach. I was always the biggest girl out on the court/field playing basketball or soccer. I was closer in size to the boys my age than the girls, and that was a fact my peers LOVED to point out. I was always so embarrassed and hid my body with loose hoodies and sweat pants. In middle school, I took a huge growth spurt and thinned out through my frame overall, but managed to keep my broad shoulders, relatively large bottom and thunder thighs. It sucked not being able to fit into the same fashion trends as my friends or identify with ANY female I saw in the media. It made me feel like a freaking ALIEN. As hard as it was, I learned to love those features with time. I became a national champion fighting in Tae Kwon Do, and having a sturdy frame with strong legs was an asset to that win. The strength in my butt and legs also led to great success in basketball and field hockey. These features were advantageous to my performance and I wish I had learned before I had that being strong was a positive and not a negative.
    Again, great blog entry!

    Kelsie P.

  5. Hi Amanda! First congratulations on an excellent blog post! You have touched on something that I am extremely passionate about, women and self-perception and body positivity. The carefully constructed and altered media envelops today’s society and projects on to them the ideal body type, that female’s feel pressured to attain. On a personal level, I have certainly struggled with self-perception issues. As a woman who takes exercising and different sports I have been involved with very seriously, my body shape is something I have continuously scrutinized as a dancer, swimmer, and runner. All three activities require a bit of a different body type. Dance requires that you are elongated and lean. Swimming requires a lot of strength in your shoulders and lower body, while running again is lower body and core. There is a lot of pressure on female athletes to look a certain way to correspond with the requirements of their sport, in addition to the scrutiny they receive on their appearance during their day-to-day lives. This challenge that female athlete’s face, adhering to their sporting requirements or adhering to social expectations is a stressful balance, and an unrealistic expectation for women to meet and I believe that your blog post eloquently illustrates this!
    Haley M.

  6. Great blog post! I really enjoyed your discussion of the issue of pay equity and how it related to body positivity. I think the steps that female athletes have to take in order to make a comparable wage to their male counterparts makes for an interesting discussion. I think that female athletes do face more scrutiny over their body in a way that men do not seem to have to, which I think is a little problematic since they are paid less, expected to do more but also have to meet a very high standard to how they look as well. I think your point about athlete having to pose nude in order to earn enough money, really points to the views that society has of women and the value that we give them. I think that your post did a great job of bring these two topics together in a way I had not thought of before.

    Marie O.

  7. Great post! It touches on many of the important issues, not only in sport, but also in mainstream society. I find it terrible that for a female athlete to make enough money to survive she must sexualize her own body. Its just a fact in the world in which we live. To see a switch in thought it would take a ground up approach in the way we see gender. But on the other hand, showing ones body can be a way to empower women, a shift away from body shamming. Women need to be celebrated for the athletic achievement and not degraded to merely sexual objects.

    Ben A.

  8. She was spinning anti-clockwise when I first looked. I was able with some effort to persuade myself that she was spinning clockwise. Then she was always clockwise. It took much much more effort to persuade myself she was spinning anti-clockwise, and if I can only maintain this illusion until I blink, or resize the window (I was cutting out clues such as the hair in an effort to persuade myself she was spinning anti-clockwise). Now I think if she wants to spin clockwise then that’s fine by me, I’ll let her.

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