By now, most of us will have heard about the disgraceful, "not a looker" comment that was said about professional tennis player and Wimbledon winner, Marion Bartoli by BBC presenter John Inverdale.
Worse than Mr. Inverdale's comment was the way so many members of the general public took to social media after her win to insult, demean and verbally assault her on the basis that they just didn't think she was pretty enough to win such a prestigious competition. I, like so many others, felt completely disgusted with the way Ms. Bartoli was treated and couldn't believe that after accomplishing such a spectacular feat of athleticism, she was forced to confront criticism over how her body looked instead of praise for how well it obviously worked.
While I'm disappointed with the way she's been treated, I can't say I'm surprised. Sadly, Marion Bartoli is not the first female athlete to have her physical appearance be judged, mocked and ridiculed and I doubt she'll be the last. The whole, "she's too fat to compete" argument has become a familiar mantra of the most ignorant and shallowest of sports fans. Competing at the level that these women do is stressful enough, having to deal with nasty criticism from fans or even coaches and teammates can be too much to bear. It's not unusual to hear about professional athletes suffering from eating disorders after dealing with years of pressure to be thin. After several years of battling an eating disorder, Olympic triathlete Hollie Avil decided to put her health first and leave her sport and at the age of 15, Olympic diver Brittany Viola also developed an eating disorder.
While campaigns like Girls Unstoppable from Dove are encouraging girls to get off the sidelines and into the game, there are still way too many messages thrown at them on a daily basis telling them that what they can do isn't nearly as important is how they look while they're doing it. What is it about successful, talented, powerful women that make so many people uncomfortable? Why are women being crucified for caring more about skill than sex appeal? With sex taking over our magazines, TVs and music videos, can't we please keep it out of our sports?
Marion answered her critics with more class and respect than they deserved, but I'm still bothered by how many people are missing a key element to this story. When the internet trolls called her ugly, those wanting to defend her, replied by saying, "she's not ugly, she's beautiful!" The problem with this response is that it still puts too much emphasis on the wrong thing: Beauty. This isn't about whether or not Marion Bartoli is attractive, this is about the fact that it just shouldn't matter. She won at Wimbledon! That's a pretty amazing accomplishment and one that should stand on its own. I'm disgusted that there's more discussion going on about where she ranks on the "sexy meter" than any of her matches.
Interestingly, while there are some privileges that come along with being considered an attractive male athlete in the way of endorsement deals (David Beckham) and even reality shows (Ryan Lochte), I cannot think of any "average looking" male athletes who have been slaughtered in the media the way so many women have been. It's as if women, all women, have a responsibility to be sexy. It's expected that from the minute we're born we will do everything we can to maintain a level of attractiveness that others will find pleasing throughout or entire lives or be subjected to the harsh judgement of any goon with an opinion, as irrelevant as it may be.
During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, photographers had a field day taking pictures of the female volleyball players. The problem is that most of the pictures focused primarily on their rear ends and completely ignored the rest of their bodies; like their FACES. This might not seem like a big deal until you see how ridiculous it would be if male athletes were treated the same way. Metro.us was curious enough to find out and published a compilation of pictures that highlighted male Olympians in a way we rarely ever see and cleverly proved a point that needed to be made. An athlete's body should be admired for its mechanics not its aesthetics and the best female athletes are the ones who train and compete the hardest, not the ones who induce the most erections.
All girls deserve the right to grow into confident women with the fearlessness to go after their dreams and to believe that they are worthy of achieving great success in the things that excite and inspire them the most. Our daughters need to understand that being respected is much more important than being lusted after.