It’s hard sometimes not to feel completely inadequate, what with the constant barrage of images of the female form. Magazines, advertisements, TV shows, these constructions work to define (and remind you) what, and who, a woman is. Any deviation from these social ideals of femininity and beauty and you risk being critically judged as “not woman enough”. For those women who are heterosexual but don’t conform to social images of femininity and womanhood, you even have your sexuality questioned.
I don’t read women’s magazines, and I don’t watch (much) TV but this isn’t to say that I don’t fall prey to the occasional self-image loathing. After all, I’m not totally isolated from images of the female form. But on a Wednesday night, amidst the voluminous cheers and excitement from the trivia participants, I was quietly watching the rebroadcast of the London Olympic games.
I was captivated.
Not by the sportsmanship and skill executed by the athletes in their respective sports but by their bodies, the movement. Especially those of the female athletes.
Watching the 2-v-2 U.S. women’s volleyball match was an elegance I’ve never paid attention to. The strength exerted throughout the body, and seeing the body as a structure of that strength was beautiful. I was amazed at how graceful the women were during the rowing competition. The magical unity in the circular movement of their paddles, as they soared across the water.
I was watching the body in its best form. Perhaps perfect form.
It’s interesting though, that despite the gains made by women in athletics the overall views of women haven’t made much progress. There’s the Turkish columnist who wrote that the Olympics was destroying womanhood, criticizing the athletes’ lack of “female form”, i.e. large breasts, curved hips and butt. (He even suggested, according to the Hurriyet Daily news that more points be awarded to women athletes based on how attractive they are.)
But it’s not just this writer that has criticized these Olympic beauts. I’ve overheard casual conversations among women who I walk by being critical of these athletes’ physical forms, and the consensus? They don’t look feminine enough; they’re too muscular.
Criticisms borne out by the stereotypical hogwash fed to most women thanks to
shit “informative” magazines like Cosmo, or women’s fitness mags interestingly, and curiously, create a negative effect whereby women cyclically feed into the socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty. And these comments do nothing but perpetuate the feeling of inadequacy that many women feel on the daily. The relationship between a woman’s self and her image is already fragile (as it’s suggested), why rip it to shreds even more?
The next two days after that night out for trivia I was reading some articles and what inspires me most is the response to criticism by some of the athletes about their bodies.
After appearing in a documentary, Great Britain’s 18-year-old Zoe Smith received harsh criticism for her appearance according to the Daily Mail. Internet users called her a lesbian.
She responded to her critics writing, “Most of the people that do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pig-headed blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we are stronger than them. Simple as that.”
Smith also added, pointedly I might add, “You’d think that young women around the same age as us would commend us.”
The young Brit broke a British record after lifting twice her body weight during the 58kg Weightlifting event during the Olympic games.
As a woman, what’s not to be proud about that?
Even Gabrielle Douglas of the U.S., who won gold for the all-around individual title in gymnastics was the recipient of some harsh words.
The biggest criticism? Her hair. Of all the things an athlete can be criticized for, it’s how bad her hair looked over the course of her
events. Nevermind her spectacular performances, one of which was beautifully captured by photographer Gregory Bull.
Just as Smith responded to her critics, the 16-year-old Douglas also responded, telling the Associated Press, “What’s wrong with my hair? I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.’”
Really though. Why does it matter if her hair is pulled straight back into a tight bun when she can elegantly perform on the high beam?
The Olympics is not a spectacle where female bodies appear to be gawked and judged for their sex appeal. It’s an event where athletes compete, and show their sportsmanship and skills in athletics.
What’s also not to love when your country sends more women than men to the Olympic games?
I'm an intern in Bethesda, Md.
When I'm not working, I'm writing, photographing, reading or enjoying some other equally leisurely activity.
All my opinions are my own, and do not reflect anyone else's views or endorsements. Guests posts are views of the guests, and are not a reflection of my own views.
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