Sports And Feminine Imagery: An Eternal Conflict
“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female—whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male”- Simone de Beauvoir
Human beings are a social animal. They cannot live, survive or thrive without each other. They also put certain impression, goals or expectations on each other, Helpful they might be, but sometimes they cause illicit pain on a certain person. Because they were not meant to be that way. In short, follow the stereotypes. The same goes for the women in our society, “the second sex”. They are instigated to look, walk, talk and perform their societal duty in a certain manner. But there are many baddies or courageous and ambitious women who break free of the shackles and dream to fly high.
They do succeed. But still, they are criticized. The biggest example of this is women in sports.
The stereotype of Women in Society
“Why are you playing with boys?”
“Did you have your periods yet?”
“Why are you training so hard? Do you want to be a woman with muscles?”
“When will you get married?”
“When are you having kids?”
“You are a woman and you don’t know how to cook!”
“You want to join sports? But that is a man thing!”
You get my point, right? Even from my personal experience, an “aunty” asked my sister,
“Why on earth have you chopped off your hair? Do you get headaches?”
My sister looked fine, she felt fine but still, she was shamed because she didn’t fulfil all the uncles and aunties stereotype of women in our society.
Adversities of female sports personalities in India
Even though India is a third world country, by no means it is low on talent. There are talented women sprinters, wrestlers, swimmers, runners, hockey players etc but all are overshadowed by Indian men’s cricket. All funds and sponsorships go to the Cricket team while the women athletes, who can bring India tons of medals suffers from malnutrition. We are not bashing the cricket industry because it is a very popular sport, but the rest of the talents must not be overlooked either.
Some female sportsperson who bought international medals to the country were forced to sell equipment, fast food or vegetables to support their families and there’s another one who decided to quit hockey and become a teacher because of ‘stability’. Nisha Rani Dutt and Nauri Mundu are to name a few. There is another adversity faced by all women that instigated the #metoo movement is the sexual harassment of young and naïve athletes with big dreams in their eyes.
But some women rise above all adversities and shine through anyway. Because they not only had determination but perseverance and the tenacity to never give up.
Some of them are Saina Nehwal, MC Mary Kom, Dutee Chand etc.
The Dark Side Of Success In a Female Athlete’s Life
Even though you have surpassed all the battles to reach the top place, you are now in the spotlight. The public’s eye is following you. They are scrutinizing your every movement not because they are a celebrity sportsperson, but because they are a female celebrity sportsperson.
Tabloids are the spokesperson of society here.
They will judge your body and almost always objectify them. They would want them in luxury athleisure to look sexy but sporty at the same time.
Now that you are successful you are bound to get sponsorships. But the truth is those female athletes do not get the same wages as their male counterparts. Therefore they sort to another mode of compensation such as modelling on popular tabloids or doing advertisements by endorsing products they would never use.
Another major thing that comes with success and fame is their sexual orientation.
They are mostly subjected to portray a heterosexual image to come as more ‘appealing’ to men or society.
According to the 2020 issue of Vogue India international medal winner in 100 meters race, Dutee Chand faced a tremendous amount of hate and cyberbullying on social media after coming out as a lesbian. She thought she “didn’t deserve to live”. Even her family did not support her when she decided to come out and threatened her that it would end her career. She did go through a lot of trolling since did not fit the female sports idol imagery of society but with her girlfriend’s help, she pulled through it. She became a stronger, kinder and sensible person and wishes to do more for the LGBTQ+ society in India.
Fashion Magazines on Portraying Female Athletes
Since many people, especially many young women read fashion magazines as a source of inspiration or aesthetic pleasure, the content should be more conscious.
But even the topmost magazine falls into the trap of stereotyping female athletes and portray them “how a woman should be” according to societal norms.
They provide them with revealing clothing. I bet the magazine intends to show their athletic figure, but the underlying motive becomes objectifying or sexualizing them.
The intention should be showing off the strength and power of female sportsperson so that youngsters can look up to them. The intention should be portraying their skill and their craft, but all things get downplayed by the photoshoot.
While Vogue India 2020 did a good job positively portraying the female athletes, the 2012 issue of American Vogue did the exact opposite.
The cover of the fashion magazine was adorned by Serena Williams and Hope Solo. Both of them are Olympic athletes. But the catch is that they were holding arm to arm with male Olympic sportsman Ryan Lochte.
Maybe the intention was to show that women athletes are as equal as their male counterparts. But the cover gives off odd imagery of male domination and women with revealing clothes are adorning him.
According to Huffingtonpost, it was a weird blend of fashion and sports.
Moreover, only one female athlete was shown in motion. The rest were as usual betrothed to fit in with the feminine imagery despite being a strong sportsperson.
Now we cannot blame Vogue because we all have to cater to society’s needs.
“I have tasted blood and it is sweet”- Halsey, Nightmare
Till the Dusk of civilization, society will remain.
So will remain the rules, the expectations, the taboos and stereotypical ideations of women.
We all try to break free and some of us succeed and some do not. The same way female athletes succeed and some get lost in pensive of forgetfulness.
Those who remain fight and wrestle their way through the success and leave a mark on the planet. Young girls do get inspired to pursue sports as a career by seeing them. They also convey the message of healthy living such as exercising or healthy eating which invariably is helpful and inspiring.
After all, you cannot be a sprint runner by eating one meal a day or by intermittent fasting.
If you become a sportsperson, inevitably, you will not meet society’s norm as a female.
You can look chic in Puma.
You can decide to love a girl.
You can decide to have three kids and get multiple international medals.
Ladies, the choice is up to you.