Sportswomen and the ugly nature of the media


Well there has been a lot in the press of late on sportswomen hasn’t there? I mean, obviously there’s been all the articles about the Winter Olympics, those halcyon days when Putin invited all, even the gay people (so long as they didn’t touch the children – his words, definitely not mine), into the sunny seaside town of Sochi to host a celebration of snowy sports.  However, that’s not what i’m talking about today. Instead i’m referring to the odd smattering of articles popping up in the press recently involving women in sport with no mention of any actual currently happening sport.  Whether it’s The Times and their piece on Becky Adlington OBE and whether she has had her nose surgically altered, Laurie Penny’s reactionary open letter to Adlington in the Guardian or the truly bizarre offering by Kevin Eason on how curling is bringing sexy back, to name a few, the focus of these articles seem less about the actual sport and more about the faces. (If you can’t access the Kevin Eason article I will send you the transcript as this has to be read to be believed)

Many of these articles are discussing important topics and highlighting the ever increasing issue the media perpetuates of the perfection of a woman’s image well over any of her achievements. The bullying Adlington has experienced over her looks by social media and the press is a heartbreaking example of this, picking on a young woman who has done nothing wrong other than earn publicity for being the most successful British swimmer ever.  It’s an issue that needs to be discussed, highlighted and acted upon. With the likes of Twitter and The Daily Mail Online allowing society’s lowest lifeforms to have access to celebrities and have public opinions is making this world a harsher one for any young woman.

However, for all that I completely agree with the above, I am beginning to worry that the world of women’s sport is being forced away from actual game play and instead shoehorned by the media into the world of image and beauty.  It feels a bit like the packaged product of women’s sport has baffled most media moguls so has been given the USP of being about the women themselves and not their on pitch/pool/field/track/slope (you get the picture) ability, sold instead under the title ‘women’s issues’ as to not mix with the male dominated area of sport.  The problem of image, beauty and the need to conform is definitely an area that affects women more than men in the media and I strongly feel that this is increasingly the space sportswomen are being pushed into.  I’m not saying male athletes don’t get mocked for their looks, but its not news for the media as men have their sport. I can’t for the life of me imagine the Telegraph running a heartfelt piece on Wayne Rooney and how the pressure to not be bald drove him to have new hair stapled to his head.  Yes it was reported on, yes there was a lot of teasing, but that was that, he’s been left to play football.

Until recently I was a fan of the Sunday Times Style Magazine’s ‘Fit not Thin’ campaign, although a bit superficial it felt like a good attempt to get women active, highlighting the physical and mental benefits of hitting your local gym or tabatha yoga class.  That was until the article on women’s football. The main photo was good, with members of a women’s football team left to pose in their kit, followed by some great quotes from some of England’s highest profile football players. No, it was the mention of ‘the look’ that female footballers have apparently taken on that made me a bit sick in my mouth. With mention of a good foundation, braids, fake tan and kohl, women’s football suddenly sounded like it was modeling itself on a night out in Essex rather than an international level sport.  It also instantly took the world of women’s football, with its dedicated sportswomen of all abilities, and dropped them right into the pigeon hole of image and beauty, as if that was the only way women would be interested or relate to the concept of women playing the sport.  The media can’t help itself.

As with Eason’s hysterical fangirl piece on curling, sportswomen can and do take the time to look good before playing their chosen sport and that’s great.  A spartan world of no make up would be a sad one for all, myself definitely included, however it shouldn’t be the talking point of their sport.  It shouldn’t have anything to do with their sport.  Whether Toni Duggan has done her hair and makeup before heading to the pitch has nothing to do with how she plays. Eve Muirhead et al’s plaits and mascara wasn’t a contributing factor to their bronze medal win at Sochi.

The pressure on sportswomen by the media to look good is a travesty that needs to be discussed, but it’s not the only thing that should make headlines. Women’s sport has a whole lot more to give besides pretty faces and image insecurity, like, say, actual sport, lets just hope the media realises this before that pigeon hole is slammed shut.


Image from (thanks!)


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