My post last week on #covertheathlete brought up some comments about the assumptions some of us women face. I’m only going to address a couple of them here – the three that come to my mind having experienced them – but there are obviously many more assumptions or stereotypes that exist. I would love to hear from you on what some of those issues are and, when possible, share how you dealt with them.
- One assumption is the concept of what an athlete’s body “should” look like. Since we all know pictures speak much louder than any words I could type, I’ll let Howard Schatz’ 2002 work, Athlete, give us a great visual of professional, female athletes:
One evening on the PCT this summer, I fell into conversation with a fellow hiker about this exact topic: the shapes and sizes of women. She had heard comments about how she didn’t look like she had been hiking since she didn’t have the “hiker body”; in spite of actually hiking for many hundreds of miles. Although those comments were shrugged off, it is indicative of the larger issue wherein we assume that every body will conform to certain standards of muscle (or in long distance hiking, an emaciated upper body with T-Rex arms and killer calves) when, in fact, there is no “one” female athletic shape. It means that I know women who – on appearance – are on the heavy side but when you see them in their activity of choice, they will blow by you. On the other end, I know very slight and petite women whom you couldn’t think pick up their own ski equipment and end up charging and shredding hard. There are fat-skinny people and skinny-fat people – simply looking at one’s body shape only gives us a superficial and partial story of a person’s athletic talent and abilities.
And when I consider the assumptions on male athletes, there does not seem to be the same stereotype or expectations of what constitutes a male athletic body. We accept that there are many male athletes that are overweight (hello, D-lines on the football team!) or incredibly slight (ultra marathoners, anyone?). Why do we assume that a female of a particular body type is of a lesser calibre?
2. The second assumption I’ve faced over my life is that because I like sports, I must hate pink (or purple), never wear dresses, only buy footwear related to sports, and eschew all romantic comedies. (I must insert here that I don’t actually love/hate any colour but the issue of slapping pink paint on equipment and only offering pink/purple clothing is widespread and insulting…but that’s a whole other blog post!). What I want to address is that I like wearing heels and it’s fun wearing a twirly dress. And this doesn’t mean I can’t participate in sports.
The two are not isolated and nowhere is it stated that you must give up your femininity to participate in sport; in fact, pro-cyclist Emily Batty is known for wearing both makeup and jewelry while competing. When asked about maintaining a sense of femininity, she is quoted as saying “I think it comes natural. It’s just who I am. Race day for me is just another day, and putting mascara on is no different than brushing my teeth.” I may not go to that trouble but it’s not fair for any of us to judge someone because they want wear certain clothing.
3. Lastly, your sexuality (this point will be short). I’ve lost count how often people have assumed that because I’m active in sports, it must mean I’m gay..or at least, bi; right? Riiiiiight…so, perhaps shocking to some but a person’s sexuality has no bearing on their athletic abilities or interests. My reaction(s) to this type of assumption generally fall along the lines of: Who gives a shit? How is that a question? How does that #covertheathlete?
What do you think? Has someone ever assumed or judged you on one of these? Something else? Or perhaps you’ve even passed judgement on someone else…in which case, did you acknowledge that thought and try to figure out why it may have entered your mind?