By Andrea Garcia
As a spectator of multiple sports, I have observed the consistent spectrum of body types that various sports produce and even favor. Contact athletes are bulked, endurance athletes are tiny and lean and athletes of social sports can be either or and in between. All are held to different scales, depending on the specific sport. Yet, there is a double standard toward body image that comes with being a male athlete versus being a female athlete.
Male athletes can bulk up, and they are encouraged to be as strong, powerful and dominant as it takes to be competitive. By the same token, young female athletes condition their bodies to their sport, but often fear dancing along the line of appearing masculine. Note the hint of a negative connotation.
To celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day at the start of this month, University of South Carolina volleyball player Victoria Garrick eloquently sent a reminder to female athletes: “Girls who compete to win [the national championship] will not, and physically cannot, look the same as models clouding our Instagram feeds.” This quote also lends itself to the double standards of the modeling industry—but that’s for a different article.
College athletics is where young individuals get thrown onto a daily hamster wheel in order to be the most fit they can be. They are told what to eat, how to train and how to treat their bodies in order to be the healthiest version of themselves. While it is a healthy intention, it conflicts with the unhealthy societal expectation of women to be dainty, doll-like skinny and delicate.
This standard can take root on the national and collegiate levels, but it is most evident on the world stage.
After recently defeating her older sister at the Australian Open, Serena Williams boasts 23 major titles in her trophy case. Regardless of gender domains, she is hailed as one of the “world’s greatest athletes.” The media applause in her name is deafening, but it gets cancelled out by opening the media backdoor of criticism towards her body type.
Williams has endured her fair share of rallies on the court, but nothing can compare emotionally to the level of criticism she receives from social media. The most notable of these comments is the one which even prompted J.K. Rowling to respond. Her tweet said: “The main reason for her success is that she is built like a man.” Many journalists, whom I otherwise look up to, judge her biceps. It’s ironic that the physical quality that makes her an empowered athlete is used to disempower her as a woman.
Females should be seen as strong without having to be referred to as masculine. Being physically strong shouldn’t be associated with a gender.
Bodies are beautiful things, and they are meant to enable us to train past the limits of our physical and mental strengths. It’s unfortunate that media expectations, and as a result, societal expectations, undervalue those limits for females.