As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed today, an article posted over at ZGiRLS titled, "Glitter, Ribbons, Bulk, & Braids: Being a Girl in the Masculine World of Sports" caught my eye. It was a great post and you should click the link and read it for yourself. If you're too lazy to read it yourself, my shortened version of the story follows below.
It is the undeniable truth that the world of sports is dominated by men. We idealize these men because they are strong, powerful, confident, and aggressive. No one cares how big and broad shouldered a professional football player is. No one cares how big Aksel Svindal's thighs are. Why? Because their build is an asset to them in their respective sports. We don't make rude comments about the size of the clothing or their insane muscle definition. We don't care how much they weigh. We don't care that they are confident and aggressive (for people who are not professional athletes we call this "cocky"). Yet, none of this holds true for the opposite sex. If you're a woman with a strong, powerful, muscular build, you apparently no longer look like a woman. Despite your hair, makeup, soft face, and boobs, you look like a guy. What?
The article goes in depth about criticism of Lindsey Vonn, Serena Williams, Rhonda Rousey, Misty Copeland, etc. and how they are labeled as manly based on their builds and their attitudes. For some reason, it doesn't matter that Lindsey Vonn's legs are strong enough to carry her down the steepest, iciest, gnarliest downhill course in the world at 75 mph, or around a corner pulling 2 G's. What matters is that she isn't a size 4. Who cares that she WILL break the all-time wins records (86)? Psh, not me. All I want to know is why she was ever dating Tiger.
That's ridiculous and it's mean and it's disrespectful. I know, because I can't tell you the amount of times I've been told, straight up or in a round-about way, that I'm built like a guy. I've learned to laugh. I'm 5'10, I weigh 150 pounds. When I was ski racing I consistently weighed between 160 and 170 pounds. I have hardly any body fat. What I do have, is a set of incredibly strong legs and a butt to match. My shoulders are broad and my deltoids and biceps are definitely bigger than Adriana Lima's. I am a product of sport. I am a product of 10 years of training. I've worked damn hard to be as strong as I am, so piss off.
Those comments don't bother me, and they sure as hell don't bother Lindsey (an Austrian coach once made a comment that the only reason she was faster than all the other girls was because she's fat... right), or Serena, or Misty, or Rhonda. Who those comments might bother though, are young girls, or women looking at getting into a sport. That bothers me. Please imagine for one moment that you are a 12 year old girl, you love skiing, and you want to go to the olympics. In the next few years you'll start spending more time in the gym, you'll start lifting a lot, you'll get really strong, and because you're a girl, you'll grow faster than the boys. You're taller and generally just bigger. Now you're 15. You're a great ski racer. You're strong and powerful and fast and determined. But you're bigger than all of your friends and you start to hear comments about how weird it is that you're so strong (especially from silly 15 year old boys)--except they won't say strong, they'll say big. At this point in your life, you just want to fit in. You stop conditioning as much, you're skiing suffers or you get hurt, because you wanted to fit it and be normal.
I know this happens, because I've been there. I was the little girl in the gym at 12 years old. I could squat twice my body weight at 15. I was stronger than I have ever been at 18. It didn't matter that I was built the way I needed to be to be a competitive ski racer--I was poked fun at all the time. Thankfully I had a solid head on my shoulders and coaches to reassure me, otherwise I may have ended up being the girl that quit at 16 so she could fit in. Even now, I'm much slimmer than I was and I train for a completely different sport, I still get told that I'm "pretty heavy" for a mountain biker.
If I were a guy, that wouldn't be an issue in my discipline. Strength is equally as important as endurance. But, I'm a woman, and it's weird. That has to change. The stigma around female athletes needs to disappear. Women have to be strong like men to be SAFE and COMPETITIVE in their respective sports, yet women are criticized for being strong. BUT women also get criticized for being feminine in sports. Don't be too pretty, or you'll be deemed a barbie doll. Don't be too proud of that body you worked damn hard for, and don't even think of showing it off, because you'll be blamed for sexualizing your sport. And this isn't just a guy thing. Women feed into this just as much. Shame on us.
Ladies, be proud of your body--size 2 or size 10, 5'0 or 6'2. Work hard and be healthy. Be strong so you can be safe. Be strong so you can be competitive. Encourage other women and young girls to strive to be strong, not stereotypical.
Writing is something I have always been passionate about. I love sharing my stories, my thoughts, my advice, but mostly, I write to record memories and express myself. So here are a few of my fondest memories, best and worst moments, my most profound and boisterous thoughts, and riskiest advice. Enjoy!