Instead of being revered as an upcoming star in women's figure skating, for the past few days Kaetlyn Osmond has been known as the girl whose crotch shot was printed in a national newspaper. And that's the real tragedy of this story.
Canadians have been critical of the Globe and Mail's decision to showcase the 17-year-old in such an evocative position (gasp! -- she is showing flexibility and wearing a normal costume by figure skating standards) and the paper's public editor, Sylvia Stead, called the photo "unacceptable."
The image has sparked a national discussion about body image, but by wagging their fingers critics have actually done a disservice to women's rights: The conversation has once again been about a female's body rather than her professional success.
The true irony of the outrage is that Osmond initially thought nothing of the photo. She told a Toronto radio station that high kicks and short skirts are par for the course in her world, and that she was simply excited to be on the cover of a newspaper for the first time. But since many Canadians saw her media splash as more of a sink, that mentality has clearly tainted Osmond's thinking: "I was really excited about it," she said on air. "Then people were talking about the picture (not being) the greatest."
And therein lies the problem with the photo's critics: They are crossing that ever-so-blurry line between standing up for a cause and being judgmental. In an attempt to make a point about female body image, they are making this otherwise proud athlete feel insecure about hers.
Feminism has a bad habit of working in absolutes (girl in underwear-like spandex: bad), rather than seeing the bigger picture (girl kicking ass in her respective sport: good). It reminds me of that episode of Girls, the HBO series about four 20-somethings struggling to navigate post-college life, where the prudish Shoshanna is touting a dating book for its wisdom applicable to all womankind (or as she refers to them: "the ladies"). The rebellious, free-spirited Jessa is horrified by this over-simplification ("I am not 'the ladies'"). She says: "I'm offended by all the 'supposed to's'. I don't like women telling other women what to do, or how to do it, or when to do it."
So let's stop telling Osmond how to feel about her photo and let her feel the only way she wants to: proud. The best thing we can do for women's rights is not to dissect this image, but to focus on the achievements it represents.
When you think of Osmond, think of this: In the past two years she's placed first at the 2013 Canadian Championships, the 2012 Skate Canada International competition and the 2012 Nebelhorn Trophy event. In her first ever world figure skating championship this year, Osmond landed in the top ten, securing herself a spot at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Because of her performance, three-time world figure skating champion Patrick Chan now feels Canada is the country to beat in the Olympic team event, according to the Toronto Star.
Maybe if we talk about Osmond's successes, she can grow confidently as an athlete and a woman, rather than feel self-conscious the next time she does a high kick as part of her job.