Sports Round-Up #11: We Are Vessels, Not Objects
BY BETHANY ELDRIDGE | EDITORIAL INTERN “Heidi Klum is no longer a 10”.
This kind of body rhetoric can be found at any local supermarket, in any given issue of a women’s magazine. What makes this specific quote disheartening is that it came from our man in the top office, Mr. Donald Trump. The objectification of women is so deep-rooted in our society that a man can attain the peak of our government despite regarding women with such disrespect, and treating us as if our purpose is simply for the gaze of a misogynistic society.
As somebody who plays sports as a way of body empowerment, I cringe at the idea that negative body image issues collide with athletics as well. Unfortunately, they do. Serena Williams, a 22-time Grand Slam winner and a 7 time Wimbledon champion, spoke about her struggle with her appearance in an interview on ThePostGame, reflecting that when she started playing tennis growing up, comparing her physique to other athletes often made her “uncomfortable” with the way she looked. Having to take into account factors such as the shape of your body, your weight, and your jean size, represent the day to day life of most teenage girls, which is heartbreaking enough, but adding this strain onto female athletes takes away time spent focusing on our game, depleting our potential for accomplishments.
The question that resonates for me is, “Whose fault is it”?
Whose fault is it that body image is something that female athletes, even powerful ones like Williams, have to face daily? Is it men like Donald Trump? Is it the magazines that exclusively showcase photo-shopped bodies brainwashing young girls today? Yes, I believe that it is a mixture of both of these issues; however, I also believe that the sports community plays its own role perpetuating these negative stereotypes. Often times, when my fellow classmates report back to me about their sports seasons, I hear horror stories of not eating more than one meal a to lose an unhealthy amount of weight for crew, pressures to be thinner for running, and general obsession over our bodies in every sport. This way of coaching is never worth it. We coach and influence our young girl athletes and we should take that opportunity to help eliminate the poor body image issues often seen in our young, strong and capable women.
"Coaches: teach your athletes that Serena Williams is strong and powerful because of what her body is able to do, not what it looks like."
ESPN the Magazine Body Issue is a striking series that focuses on the different types of bodies of professional athletes, by showcasing nude athletes participating in elements of their sport. These photos are so refreshing because of the taboo culture around the true, and real human body, excluded from our media. On teams throughout my career, when I have heard my fellow teammates talk about their bodies, even positively, the comments have focused on the different muscles that they had toned, the flatness of their abs after a hard AAU season, or even the lack of flab on their arms based on their countless gym workouts. As I have learned, this way of thinking does not help the way that women are viewed in sports, how women view themselves, or how women view other women. Instead of focusing on the muscles that you have toned, or how your body looks, noting how your body is changing to enable you to do more on the court, on the field or in the arena is more important.
Take Amanda Bingson, a hammer thrower in the Olympics. Bingson was one of the models shot in the ESPN the Magazine Body Issue, showcasing her body without clothes while throwing a weight. This picture stuck out to me because not only was Bingson's body type powerful, but the caption of the photo stood out as well. Bingson preached that she “loved everything about [her] body”, a refreshing statement coming from a woman of a larger stature, resulting in not obtaining the “ideal body type”, as defined by our society. The reason for Bingson's love was quite obvious; she viewed her body as a relentless machine, because of its ability to compete in the Olympics amongst the greatest athletes in the world. This ideology is important for all women to apply into their experiences.
A few years ago, Serena was showcased on the front cover of the New York Magazine highlighting her incredibly toned physique. After viewing that picture again, I thought back to an experience that I had on my cross-country team. While discussing the cover, and Serena’s body, I remember distinctly saying that “I wanted to be like her” to one of my fellow teammates. My teammate’s response was that she would never want to look like “a man”. From that cover, she had decided she would never accomplish such athletic feats if her body changed from society’s ideal one. I was stunned. She did not see why my desire to be like Serena could be anything more than obtaining her body type, she could not see that what I really wanted was to win like her, to prove my womanhood like her, to accomplish what she has accomplished.
How do we change these inadequate mindsets that permeate our communities and the minds of female athletes?
Well, I started to find my answer in the documentary Embrace. This documentary movie, released this past fall, focuses on why women almost universally have such negative body images and what can be done to change it. While plenty of stories stood out, that of the director and producer of the movie, Taryn Brumfitt, was one that I think many female athletes can relate to. Taryn said that she was always uncomfortable with her body, especially after childbirth. The way she decided to change this mindset was to enter into a bodybuilding contest, to gain a “perfect body”, assuming this would mend all of her mental health issues. After the contest, however, despite that every body-builder- including herself, had gained this “perfect body”, they had actually gained nothing because they were so negative about the way they looked. Taryn stopped entering body building contests that focus on how her body looked (which required a ton of deprivation and unhappiness) and instead focused on what it could do. Although she gained back weight, she focused on running, swimming and enjoying life with the body she had, both for herself and as a role model for her daughter. From her whole experience, Taryn highlights the need for women to not view their bodies as “objects” but rather as “vessels”.
This quote is perhaps the most powerful tool in making a change in the way that young women see their bodies, and it is especially relevant in the world of sports. We can make a difference. Just using Taryn’s quote, we can change the mindset of so many struggling women, from the elementary girls playing rec league basketball, to the women playing pro ball.
"I hear horror stories of not eating more than one meal a to lose an unhealthy amount of weight for crew, pressures to be thinner for running, and general obsession over our bodies in every sport."
Coaches: teach your athletes that Serena Williams is strong and powerful because of what her body is able to do, not what it looks like. Show your players diverse body types in the world of sports, and show them that you can look different ways and still accomplish athletic feats. Do not tell young athletes that if they train a certain way, they will get bikini bodies for summer, but tell them that they will be able to do twice as many fast breaks per game. If this happens, if our girls learn in this way, the whole culture around being a female athlete will change. We will be happier, we will be more accepting of our differences and we will be even more ready to dominate.
Each month, our editorial interns research articles written by or about women’s sports. Our Sports Round Ups is a gathering place of women sports news and voices. Our mission is to spread awareness of women’s voices in the sporting field, to help tell the stories of our community, and to inspire her own understanding and voice.