Soule is a sophomore news-internet and writing double major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor Townsend represents the next generation of American tennis. With a dangerous lefty serve and topspin-heavy groundstrokes, Townsend’s play mimics serve-and-volley legends like Martina Navratilova and Justine Henin. Besides promising play, Townsend boasts the International Tennis Federation’s No. 1 juniors ranking.
When the United States Tennis Association withdrew Townsend’s U.S. Open funds in August, though, neither sickness nor injury plagued the 16-year-old sensation. Rather, the USTA withdrew Townsend’s funds because she didn’t meet its fitness standards.
Female athletes, like Townsend, often bear scrutiny thanks to society’s unrealistic, gender-specific standards. Namely, fans expect female athletes to stay thin and win.
Success involves two arenas for female athletes: glamour and game. Photos, for instance, often show female athletes’ glamour but rarely their game.
Despite having similar professions, IndyCar drivers Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan contrast via Google Images. While Patrick sports skimpy get-ups complete with tousled hair and flawless skin, Kanaan sports his (zipped) IndyCar uniform. While Patrick sits atop her car, Kanaan drives his car.
Although Patrick’s pin-up photos provide income and exposure, they undermine her authority as a professional athlete. Patrick’s pin-up photos brand her the “Go Daddy Girl” (referring to her sponsor, godaddy.com) rather than a threat on the racetrack.
Ultimately, Kanaan’s athleticism overshadows his appearance while Patrick’s appearance overshadows her athleticism. By sexualizing female athletes, their strength and athleticism receive sparse attention, perpetuating society’s gender-exclusive, unrealistic expectations.
The media favor female athletes’ glamour over their game, depreciating their achievements. When Romanian tennis star Simona Halep underwent breast reduction surgery in 2009, headline after headline promised ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photos. Halep’s makeover sidelined her six-year professional tennis career, temporarily overshadowing her French Open results. By favoring female athletes’ figures, the media trivializes female athletes’ feats.
Moreover, society’s standards thwart female athletes’ confidence by upholding inconsistent, unrealistic ideals: fans expect thin and feminine, but strong and powerful female athletes. For example, to balance femininity and athleticism per society’s standards, some female athletes apply makeup before competition, according to a National Association for Girls and Women in Sport study conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Leslee Fisher, Jenny Withycombe and Tanya Prewitt.
“This is to ensure that female athletes’ femininities remain visible while they are displaying ‘masculine’ characteristics (e.g., sweating and battling in the athletic arena),” Fisher, Withycombe and Prewitt write.
To combat these inconsistent, unrealistic ideals, the media must highlight female athletes’ fitness over their fashion. Kobe Bryant’s latest duds seldom make headlines, and female athletes deserve the same treatment from the media. Let’s write about wins, not wardrobes.
Finally, sportswriters and fans alike must accept and respect the myriad shapes and sizes that personify winners — like Townsend. After the USTA defunded her U.S. Open trip in August, Townsend played anyway thanks to her mother’s generosity. Despite her supposedly unfit figure, Townsend claimed her third junior Grand Slam doubles title with fellow up-and-coming American Gabrielle Andrews. The USTA later reimbursed Townsend’s U.S. Open expenses and finally applauded her strong, fit figure.