Now that the Olympics are over for another year, it’s going to be a long 4 years until the next games. And if you’re like us and were stoked to see the largest percentage of female athletes present at the Rio games than any other in Olympic history, then you will definitely want to know about this awesome project created by Australian designer and illustrator Wendy Fox.
It is called Women’s Gold Medalists and it was initially released as a poster back in 2012 after the London Olympics. But upon realizing that her project was more timely than ever this year at the Rio Olympics, she decided to release a new poster and book. The book is a collection of all the female gold medal winners who participated in various events, representing numerous countries. Her aim was to break down harmful body image messages thrust upon so many young women and girls by showing just how badass and accomplished different types of bodies are.
The core message was to speak against the standards that subconsciously tell women we all need to conform to a certain look and size to feel happy, healthy, beautiful and successful, shown to us over and over again in advertising, media, fashion and even the fitness industry.
On her project website, Wendy explains how the idea came to her back in 2012.
“While watching the London Olympics, I was fascinated by the vast variety in body size and shape amongst the elite female athletes. I was struck by an idea, wouldn’t it be interesting to line them all up? Women’s Gold Medalists became an exploration of how to do just that,” she said.
“Ultimately my intention is twofold; to celebrate the vast range of body types that women possess, and secondly to show what women of all body shapes and sizes are capable of. This project is a celebration of the skill and expertise of female athletes, and an illustration that no one body type is more capable or better than another when it comes to competing at the most elite and prestigious levels of athleticism,” she continued.
With such a great response to her 2012 London Olympics book from athletes, journalists, feminists, sport lovers and the design community, she decided to release a book and a poster to celebrate the women of the Rio Olympics, and raised money through a Kickstarter campaign.
“The intent for the 2016 Rio Olympics Women’s Gold Medalists is to continue to provide positive media exposure for elite female athletes. Women participate in 40% of all sport however media coverage for female athletes is at 4-7%. Astoundingly, the top hit on internet searches for ‘female athletes’ result in lists of the ‘hottest’ and ‘sexiest’ women in sport. Women, despite their gold medal athleticism are still objectified, sexualised and defined by how attractive they are, not by their athletic prowess. By presenting the data in a picturesque yet statistical way, I hope to inspire girls and women to see sporting opportunities where they may not have seen them previously and to increase interest in women’s sport,” she wrote on her campaign page.
We are very familiar with her desire to see the status quo change. We have covered a number of sports stories where women have either had to battle double standards, negative body image, unequal pay or stereotypes simply because of their gender. Whether it is Serena Williams, Ronda Rousey, or the US Women’s national soccer team after winning their third World Cup, it is clear the conversation around female athletes is very different to that of men.
And we can’t forget the often sexist coverage of women’s events in the media, prompting campaigns like #CoverTheAthlete to point out how even in the sports world, stereotypical narratives of women’s worth coming primarily from their bodies and looks are reinforced.
Wendy Fox’s Women’s Gold Medalists is brilliantly turning that narrative on its head, showing how women’s bodies should and do exist outside media headlines and are capable of great things. She gathered all the statistical data of each athlete’s bodies from the official Olympic website where they were available, and spent numerous hours sketching women such as US gymnastics prodigy Simone Biles and the Australian women’s rugby team.
“It’s a conversation between sport, women and art. I’ve been told it’s a sports science historical record and there’s never been such a comprehensive collection of data from female athletes,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald about the project.
Because it is such a unique view on athletes, a number of schools and international sporting bodies have reached out to use the book as an educational tool, and it has also been endorsed by NATO’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security.
From 1900, when women were allowed to compete in the Olympic games for the first time and made up a total of 22 out of 997 athletes present, to 2016 where women made up 49% of athletes, there has definitely been a lot of progress in terms of representation and events open to both men and women. But there are still many barriers to break down in terms of how women’s bodies are discussed, dissected and modeled after outside the sports world.
“There is way too much media emphasis on what the female body looks like. I really want this project to celebrate what the female body can do. I would love for girls to look at this project and discover a sport that’s for them, especially a sport that they didn’t even know existed before and for them to make a conscious shift in their perception of what it is that their bodies are capable of…Girls need to see female athletes held up the way men are,” Wendy outlines in her Kickstarter campaign.
The Rio book and poster will be available for purchase in December, but in the meantime, you can buy the London 2012 poster by going to her website. Looking for more info about Women’s Gold Medalists? Take a look at the video below: