It’s been an amazing few weeks for women’s sports – from the Women’s World Cup to Wimbledon. I’ve found myself in awe of the athleticism, teary-eyed with exhilaration and pride, and delighted with so much of the media coverage.
But an article on the day of the Wimbledon women’s finals got my blood boiling. Dan Rothenbeg, a writer for The New York Times, wrote about how top women’s tennis players “balance body image with ambition.” Here’s my letter to the editor:
To the Editor of The New York Times:
In focusing on body size and muscularity of the women playing at Wimbledon, Dan Rotherberg perpetuates the standard that female athletes need not only excel at their sport but also meet a societal standard for beauty while doing so. (“Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image with Ambition,” July 10) Would the Times run a story about NFL linebackers balancing their body image with their athletic ambitions?
By running the article, the Times gives credence to a double standard, one that female athletes of all ages battle regularly. Simply because some women athletes or coaches make training decisions based on body size does not make it newsworthy.
The US Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory inspired millions of girls worldwide. Like the women playing at Wimbledon, these athletes are role models for young girls. We owe it to young fans of every sport to highlight the discipline, commitment, hard work, and athleticism of female athletes and not the size of their forearms or thighs.
Regardless of whether my letter is published, I will continue to speak up for women and girl athletes, for their right to be taken seriously and to play fiercely. The focus on body image — some call it “body shaming” — is an unfair and unwanted burden on women and girls.
To female athletes of all ages: When a reporter (from your school paper to the New York Times) asks a question about your appearance, change the conversation. Turn the questions around to what is important — the high level of your play, the discipline and hard work you devote to your game, and the recognition you and your team have earned. Don’t be limited by reporters who are perpetuating a limiting and oppressive paradigm for women.
Join us and millions of others in a movement to empower girls and women by what they have accomplished and what they can achieve, not by how they look.
To sports girls everywhere: Be strong. Develop your body and mind to play your game to the best of your ability. Strive to be your best self. Have fun and be proud to PLAY LIKE A GIRL!