09 Aug Rethinking the Ideals of Female Beauty
Last month I came across a New York Times article about how top female lawn tennis athletes have to balance the perfect body image with their athletic ability.
Halfway through the article, I was pissed. In fact, it took me more than one attempt to write this blog to ensure that I didn’t come across like an angry bitch.
Serena Williams has the resume most professional athletes dream of:
- 21 time Grand Slam Champion
- 2 time Serena Slam Champion
- Has earned more prize money than any other female tennis player in history
- Minority owner of a NFL team: Miami Dolphins (along with her sister Venus)
- Numerous business interests
- Quite arguably one of top 10 greatest athletes (male or female) of all time
Yet she is continuously overshadowed by the women she consistently beats. Yet, despite all of success she is continuously subjected to body shaming. An opponent she has handily beaten 17 straight times, Ms. Maria Sharapova earned $29 million in 2013, of which $23 million were from endorsements. In that same year, Serena earned $20.5 million of which $12 million were from endorsements. Why the huge discrepancy? Simple. Endorsements don’t always reward the best athlete, they often reward the most presentable according to the Western cultural ideal of beauty.
Society has established such a narrow definition of beauty that almost no one can live up to it. Women struggle to fit within the constrictions of social expectations of thin, youthful and sexuality as constricting as waist cinchers.
I too know the horrors of body shaming. When I was playing junior ITF lawn tennis coaches would constantly tell me that I needed to lose weight to be a better tennis player and that I was larger than the average junior player. I remember once eating an ice cream cone and a coach at the time who had previously discussed my weight problem with me, with his look of derision said, “You shouldn’t be eating that.”
What resulted from this feedback was me developing a borderline eating disorder for years to come. I kept it mostly to myself but starving myself of food was the only way I knew not to put on weight. The longest I ever went without solid food – 2 weeks. What I thought was self-improvement was just self-hate compounded with shame.
But let’s forget about me for a second.
The bigger issue here is the public pressure regarding femininity. The idea that women are delicate, helpless, vulnerable creatures who need men to defend them and this has somehow manifested in the physical ideal of beauty we now have. It’s a misogynistic idea that is detrimental to aspiring female athletes and to all young girls who look up to these women as role models because it can stifle their drive to excellence, not only on the playing field but in other aspects of life.
In the New York Times article, the women on the WTA Tour seemed more concerned with a marketable image than athletic ability. Agnieszka Radwanska stands at 5 feet 8 inches but only weighs 123 pounds. A conscious decision made by her coach “to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10. Because, first of all she’s a woman and she wants to be a woman.” Maria Sharapova, who Serena beats all of the time, is 6 feet 2 and 130 pounds plus she wants to be thinner. She is a professional athlete who does no weight training and feels like it is unnecessary for lawn tennis. Yet she is repeatedly beaten by a female who has the necessary muscle mass to excel.
It makes me wonder what is the real goal here? To be the best athlete or the highest paid one based on beauty ideals?
We need to rethink our ideals of female beauty. We need to encourage females to celebrate their authentic beauty and their athletic prowess.
Have a courageous day!