Sports – one of the oldest forms of competition in human history. Through intense, physical training the human body becomes robust and hardened. Consequently, when we think of athlete, our society thinks of these slim bodies with well-toned muscles. It’s probably expected that we would picture an athlete to look such away because of the amount of conditioning needed for sport. More specifically, the female athlete is often thought of to be slender. With such expectations, is there a possibility of a curvy female athlete?
Leisel Jones is an Australian eight-time Olympic medalist in women’s swimming. In 2012, a newspaper known as the Herald Sun pointed out that her figure was wider in contrast to her figure in 008. The organization then proceeded to create a poll asking if she was fit to swim in the 2012 London Olympics. Immediately however, many Olympians and health advocates had sided with Jones and demanded that the poll be taken down. What is interesting about this particular athlete is that despite what some had perceived as a body that was “unfit” she had won three gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze medal – clearly she was a superb athlete. It should also be noted that she was 16 when she first swam in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Such reactions pose the question of whether or not young women are not only expected to perform up to standard, but to look like a standard.
Another topic interest concerning curvy female athletes can be found in the sport of cheerleading. Cheerleading has been an American cultural icon since the latter half of the Twentieth Century; especially amongst high school-aged children and college students. But one stereotype has persisted throughout its history – cheerleaders are slim-figured. A 2010 study conducted at the University of South Carolina had found that female college cheerleaders are often self-conscious about their figure, partly because of how revealing their uniforms are. The participants were also asked about how they thought their parents and coaches viewed their bodies in relation to body image, and the study concluded that most felt they did not match their coaches’ ideal picture of body image. As a result, the study also notes that many of these young women were at risk for eating disorders, all in the pursuit of what they felt was an ideal body image.
With this in mind, one particular case worthy of examination is the Oklahoma City Thunderers cheerleader, Kelsey Williams. In April 2013, a blogger wrote a post about her titled, “Is this girl too Chunky to be an OKC Cheerleader?” The article was followed by a poll asking readers if Willimas “Had the perfect look,” “Could use some tightening up in her mid-section,” or even if “she has no business wearing that outfit in front of people.” The article received immediate backlash and the author of the blog was labeled a “bully” and a “mean girl.” What is interesting about this case is that despite not having the body image that some perceive fit to be a cheerleader, the young woman has made a successful career in the sport.
In the end, is it not enough for a woman to perform a sport, does she need to look a certain way too?