Tuesday, September 27, 2016

All That Glitters is not Gold: placing value where it counts with regards to our female Olympians

The Olympic games are an opportunity for the best of the best athletes, competitors from around the world who have given their lives to sport, to proudly display the spoils of a life of discipline and striving for excellence. The women and men of the 2012 London Olympics have established and broken world records in their sport. However a lesser recognized record broken this year, as been the ratio of men to women sent to compete. The 2012 U.S. Olympic team is composed of 529 athletes: 261 men and 268 women. Never before has America sent more women than men to an Olympic games. In 2012 Women continue to challenge traditional gender roles through work, love and play, and do so with great success. What a wonderful accomplishment for female athletes everywhere, and also for little girls watching the events and thinking “…one day…” However, something disheartening has slightly tarnished this wonderful shift; the media’s focus on the appearance and sexuality of female athletes. American Weightlifter Holley Mangold and British swimmer Rebecca Adlington, two very different representations of diverse female body shapes, have both been scrutinized for their appearance rather than their talents. Quite outside of the fact that Olympians, by definition, are athletic and “fit” these women and many more have been accused of being “fat.” The valuing of form over function is prevalent in our societies view of the female body and are so very apparent with the body and appearance preoccupation American society has with these world class athletes. There are a number of articles trending online currently addressing the backlash against Gabby Douglas for her “unkempt hair.” Seriously!? This is our second African American female gymnast ever to win individual Olympic Gold and we are talking about her HAIR?

The objectifying dynamic at play with valuing of the physical appearance of a women to the exclusion of her accomplishments is more far reaching than mere body image. Archer, Jennifer Nichols and Runner, Lolo Jones have been the topic of media attention for reasons other than their world class athletic performance. These two powerful women have assumed a higher level of notoriety of late not due to their Olympic success but due to their virginity. Popular TV outlets like E! News and Dateline NBC have covered the “shocking’ and “impressive” accomplishment of saved virginity- even quoting Lolo Jones as saying that the difficultly of this feat surpassed that of training for the Olympics. What a sad reminder of societies objectification of a women’s sexuality- again the value of her form (virgin) over function (Olympic athlete). This is a dynamic that clinicians like myself see when our female patients struggle with eating disorders, self esteem issues, identity concerns, depression, anxiety, body image and even the after effects of sexual violence. The notion that what I am and what I have to offer to others as an object is of greater value than who I am and what I have to offer in the world. It is important that we note these dynamics and challenge them; consciousness raising is the seed of change. If you achieved a world record in something you were passionate about would you want someone to interview you about your lunch menu, hair style or sex life…? Let us be reminded where our value lies! We each have unique talents, passions, multifaceted identities, and beautiful bodies- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

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