Friday, January 31, 2014

Rant: Female Athletes, Attractiveness, and Double Standards

For the  last several months, my husband and I have been doing a lot of weightlifting. We work with a trainer who is a power lifter, and we go to a weights-only gym where the rivalry between the lifters and the Crossfitters is a constant source of entertainment. Conversations are often dominated by pounds -- "My deadlift has increased by 20 lbs." "I'm benching 10 lbs more than when I was at my peak a few years ago." "I was doing fine until the bastard put a 45 lb plate on it." etc.

In short, we've become meatheads.

So it wasn't all that surprising when a conversation with some friends shifted to bodybuilders. Specifically, those of the female variety.

I'm sure you can already hear a lot of the comments.

"Oh my God, that is so ugly."
"Does she really think men find that attractive?"

Now, male bodybuilders sometimes illicit similar responses, particularly those who've developed to alarming proportions, but I rarely hear men evaluated based on their attractiveness. And usually the ones who receive the criticism are the ones who'd developed to extreme proportions, whereas even the lighter weight women in the sport start catching hell as soon as they show any substantial definition. Further, even when male bodybuilders are criticized, rarely does the commentary boil down to "he'll never be able to land a woman like that."

It really got me thinking. Maybe conventional standards of beauty dictate that female bodybuilders are "ugly."  Maybe men don't find shredded women attractive.

And maybe, just maybe, the woman who's busting her ass to win a bodybuilding competition doesn't give a shit.

Because hey, news flash -- she's not doing it for you.

Read that again.


Maybe she's not interested in attracting a man. Maybe she already has a partner, presumably one who supports her while she's working her ass off. Maybe she surrounds herself with people who don't determine her value based on how she would stack up on a Miss America Pageant score card.

Do you have any idea how much work it takes to be a bodybuilder? Even those who use steroids still have to bust their asses at the gym. You're talking about hours and hours and hours of lifting. It's not something you do -- least of all successfully -- unless you're really dedicated to it.

Women know what today's beauty standards are. It's beaten into our heads from an early age. Unless she's been living under a rock, by the time a woman gets into bodybuilding, she knows what that entails, and she knows what society expects of her, and she's well aware of how different those two things are.

Yet she goes into it anyway.

Because -- and I think this bears repeating -- SHE'S NOT DOING IT FOR YOU.

And yet, even after a woman has worked herself into the ground to reach the top of her game, her attractiveness or lack thereof still comes into play, as if we expect her to gasp and say, "What? After all that work, I've become ugly? I shall cancel my gym membership posthaste and vomit until I'm properly pretty!"

Regardless of how anyone else feels about the outcome of an athlete's training, it bothers me that the immediate reaction people have is about the woman's attractiveness. This goes beyond bodybuilding. I've heard it applied to female athletes of every variety. Many women are afraid to go into weight training as part of their fitness regimen because they're afraid of "bulking up" and looking "like that." All myths and misconceptions aside, what it boils down to is that a fit, powerful woman is seen as "manly." She should be thin and in shape, but not *too* fit because then she'll have visible muscle tone, which is not feminine.

If she dares "bulk up", or her body just naturally assumes the toned physique of her sport of choice, then she's ugly. She's off-putting to men. She's intimidating to men. She's not attractive to men.

And as we all know, a woman is not a valued member of today's society unless she's attractive to men.

During the London Olympics, I can't even count the number of times I heard a woman referred to in this way. I'm sure it'll be coming up again soon with the Winter Games starting. If she's doing something outside of figure skating or gymnastics -- the coverage of which seems to celebrate femininity and thinness -- a woman will be labeled an ugly and unattractive. She's manly, oh the horrors.

(Note I'm not discounting the work and athleticism involved in gymnastics or figure skating, only that those sports result in an entirely different physique than other sports, and that particular physique happens to be 'acceptable' for women.)

These are Olympic caliber athletes, and instead of praising them for busting their asses to even qualify -- never mind medal -- at the Games, we criticize them for violating the sacred standards of beauty and what it apparently means to be female. It's 2014, and still a woman's value cannot be calculated without including her appearance and her ability to attract a man, even when she's at the top of her game in a sport that would have her male counterpart receiving accolades without the sidebar about "that's all fine and good, but what woman is going to be interested in that?"

A top notch athlete has to bust her ass to get where she is, and she shouldn't be degraded because being "hot" (according to current Hollywood standards) isn't her top priority.  A track star who sets a world record should be celebrated, not sneered at because her physique isn't slim and delicate. A swimmer who wins a gold medal should be praised for kicking ass, not criticized for having a "manly" upper body and not looking perfect in her swimsuit.

A woman who wins a bodybuilding competition should be congratulated for her hard work, not sneered at because she couldn't win be Miss America.

Because maybe, just maybe, Miss America isn't who she wants to be.

1 comment:

  1. So much this. The more you get into the powerlifting/strongman/weightlifting scene, too, the more people care about what women can do, not what they look like. It's why I adore the strongwomen out there, particularly the heavyweights. Great role models.