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Month: July 2013

Comments about tennis star Marion Bertoli and a Roxy surfing ad featuring Stephanie Gilmore judge female athletes by their looks

This week I am pleased to share an excellent guest post by the wonderful Dr Karen Brooks; this was originally published by the Courier MailDr Karen Brooks is an author and associate professor at the UQ Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.

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Ogling and forensically examining the bodies of athletic women is being turned into a sport.

Two champions have recently emerged in this growing field.

First is BBC commentator John Inverdale, who made disparaging remarks about Wimbledon women’s champion Marion Bartoli, claiming she “was never going to be a looker”.

Second is surf brand Roxy, which released a contentious promotional ad for the 2013 Women’s World Surfing Championships.

Featuring an elite female surfer’s body – now known to be five-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore – her face and ability in the water are totally erased as the camera lingers, often in extreme close-up, on a bed, her knickers, toned back, legs, decolletage and long blonde hair. After slowly waxing her board, only then does she enter the water, camera following her pert derriere.

Indignation followed Inverdale’s “casual sexism” and the provocative Roxy ad.

In many ways, Inverdale’s remark, his “if I caused any offence” apology and the raunchy advertisement expose the contradictory nature of women’s sport, as well as being symptoms of a society where the shape, appeal and value of female bodies are constantly scrutinised and debate about them made legitimate.

What’s being reinforced in women’s sport is the idea that success and possibly public acceptance are contingent on the female star being the next super (sport’s) model as well.

In many ways, women are damned if they do participate in a culture that insists sex sells sport and damned as “not being lookers” and forever chasing sponsorship and recognition if they don’t.

Ever since champion Australian golfer Jan Stephenson raised eyebrows and temperatures in the 1980s by embracing a sex-sells approach as a personal marketing strategy, posing naked in a bathtub filled with golf balls, there’s been a tension between appearance and ability, as if they’re either mutually exclusive or the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions.

In professional sport, the more a person wins, the more media coverage they receive and the more money they make. Women have the added burden of having to look good while they do this.

If they don’t rate (appearance-wise) on the field, then they need to get attention off the field.

From magazine spreads to nude calendars, the female athletic body must be a sexy one as well. If it’s not deemed worthy, then it’s criticised and shamed.

Inverdale attempted this with Bartoli. The same occurred at the London Olympics when Leisel Jones’ body size and shape dominated front pages.

It wasn’t just Jones who was mocked either. The Brazilian women’s soccer team and British women’s beach volleyballers came under negative scrutiny – and not only for their skimpy outfits.

Too rarely is critical discussion surrounding sportswomen about their technique, training or ability.

Professional sportswomen cannot afford to think too deeply about this unhealthy and irrelevant focus, nor comment publicly about how they really feel when their bodies are held up for judgment, as it could affect the way their “brand” and sport, are perceived.

Condemning this kind of reductive focus could also damage their ability to draw crowds, earn sponsorship and viably remain in their chosen field. It’s much easier to be complicit in the marketing of their bodies as sexy, beautiful and capable – and reap the rewards.

The result of this complicity – the female athlete’s and ours, the sport-watching or ogling public – is evident in the Roxy campaign.

This ad for a world championship doesn’t even need to name or reveal the sporting identity who features to work. Why? Because her abilities are redundant next to her beauty and sex appeal.

This is why those such as Inverdale also get away with comments about sportswomen because, even when you win Wimbledon, if you’re not conventionally beautiful, your achievement not only doesn’t count, it isn’t respected either.

What makes a female athlete of interest for audiences, the media and sponsors – talent or sexiness? Obviously, the combination is nothing short of gold, but since when is it all sport promoters seek and audiences care about?

Are we really so shallow?

If we want to invest in women’s sport and the athletes, looks shouldn’t be part of the contract, conversation or game.


You may also be interested in the following Butterfly Effect posts, also by guest writers, as these deal with similar themes:

Babes, Bitches, and Blooming Awful Journalism! 

Women In Sport Hit The Grass Ceiling


Body Image Q&A with RESCU

I was recently interviewed by Lifestyle web site RESCU on how we can create positive self-esteem. I thought I would take this opportunity to share the post with you here too:


RESCU: Is Body image an issue that only affects teens or is this a bigger problem?

Dannielle Miller: It is a far bigger issue! The research shows that although teens do struggle with body image angst, so too do many of their parents. In fact, a recent Australian study indicated that 85% of women over 40 think they are not as beautiful as the average woman, and 1 in 5 went on to say they thought they were so unattractive they avoided mirrors. Staggering isn’t it? We are supposed to be living an era of “girl-power”, with a female PM, a female Governor General, yet for many of us the ultimate glass ceiling seems to be our bathroom mirrors. I feel very passionate about wanting to shift the female gaze – no longer critiquing ourselves or each other, but rather culture and media messages that would have us believe we only have value if we fit a narrow definition of beauty.

RESCU: What are the early warning signs to parents of young women that their daughter might have a body image issue?

Dannielle Miller: Food fussiness is often an early sign. For example, all of a sudden your daughter may wish to become a vegan, or be less enthusiastic about meals she used to enjoy. Withdrawal is also a cause for concern – social withdrawal (refusing to go to the beach for example – she may not want to be seen in swimmers), and physical withdrawal (where girls almost hide within very baggy clothing to avoid showing their bodies). Listen carefully too – if your daughter tells you she thinks she is fat or unattractive, don’t simply dismiss it by saying “Don’t be silly, your’e gorgeous!” ask her why she thinks that, when she tends to think these thoughts most often (she may feel quite triggered by reading women’s magazines for example). Talk to her about the pressures on all of us to be perfect. By admitting our own struggles, we can form a deeper connection.

RESCU: Girls are often praised about their looks and valued for their beauty. Is there a different way to speak about and to young girls and women?

Dannielle Miller: It’s fine to compliment a girl’s looks – and I certainly tell my daughter Teyah (14) she is beautiful frequently. But add to the list of compliments – she may be beautiful and smart, funny, kind, compassionate…make sure that she knows she is valued for more than just her looks. So often women are told that their looks are their currency. This message can be damaging for older women too, who start to feel that they are losing their assets… we are all more than a mere face, or breasts, or legs, or a butt. We are large and contain multitudes!

RESCU: How does celebrity culture affect women’s body image? Has the beauty ideal evolved?

Dannielle Miller: I believe we are encouraged to see beauty as an ideal that is literally impossible to achieve. Images we see have been excessively digitally manipulated – the models and celebrities we aspire to be like don’t even look like the images we are presented with! Similarly, celebrities now know that looking a particular way is enough to earn them big dollars so they invest in this image. They may have full-time personal trainers, dieticians, clothing stylists, and of course professionals who groom them from head-to-toe. At the same time, we are often told that their look is ‘effortless” and “casual”. Really?!

RESCU: What are your expert tips for changing our own perception of our bodies and beauty?

Dannielle Miller: Don’t play compare and despair. Don’t compare yourself to others. Find features about your own body that you love. I wrote a “Love letter” of sorts to my body when I turned 40, thanking it for being so resilient, so patient and so strong. And I selected features about myself that I like to acknowledge.
Read fashion and beauty magazines with a critical gaze. It’s ok to enjoy such things, but be mindful of how you feel about yourself afterwards. If you often feel “less” then put them aside.
Don’t diet. Diets are a huge waste of time, money, and tend to just make us feel critical about our bodies. Love your body and you will want to feed it well, and move with it.

RESCU: What are your expert tips for challenging the way we perceive and talk to younger generations about their bodies and beauty?

Dannielle Miller: Be a good role model for the young women around you who do watch how we “wear” womanhood. Don’t put yourself down – why is the ultimate girl-world sin to love oneself? Remember the playground taunts; “She loves herself! She’s so up herself!” – I think we let them follow us into adulthood and we tend to prefer to put ourselves down rather than demonstrate self-love. I so often hear women lamenting the ageing process and criticising their bodies! Girls can’t be what they can’t see. Model self-acceptance.

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