With the amount of articles and op-eds pertaining to the sexist reporting around female athletes during the Rio Olympics this summer, we may finally have reached a tipping point in regard to the way women are discussed in sports broadcasting.
The double standards when it comes to reporting on women’s athletic accomplishments is well-documented. The misogyny that has existed both overtly and subtly for far too long is finally being dismantled at a time when conversations around female empowerment, the objectification of women’s bodies in mainstream media, and messages about gender roles are going through massive change.
Brands like Always have created a zeitgeist-defining moment with their ‘Like A Girl’ campaign which seeks to challenge the sexism behind a well-known phrase, and instead add power and agency to it. By focusing on girls playing sports, they are showcasing how athletics should be a source of empowerment, not objectification.
The ‘Cover The Athlete’ campaign launched in 2015 put together a montage of sexist coverage of professional female athletes and juxtaposed it against footage of male athletes. The idea was to show viewers that to ask a man the types of questions that women get asked in press conferences, post-match interviews and so on, would be deemed outrageous and even demeaning to the athlete’s accomplishments. So why do we accept it as a norm when it happens to women?
It is going to take a cultural shift, with many participants engaging in the cause, for the status quo to be a lot more equal. One of the willing participants is Getty Images who have launched an exciting initiative aimed at changing the visual representation of women in sports, while also encouraging greater visibility of female athletes in mainstream sports coverage.
Getty have teamed up with UK-based charity Women’s Sports Trust, the leading women’s sports charity, to launch the Best of Women’s Sports editorial curation featuring a range of badass powerful images of the world’s top sportswomen in action.
Being a world leader in visual communication, Getty Images want to ensure that if they can play a part in what images a media outlet chooses to run based on what is popular and available, then the images will portray women as powerful athletes, not just powerless bodies to be ogled at, divorced from their agency and achievements.
They are making the images available free of charge to schools, universities and non-profit organizations. Additionally, Getty will launch a new collection on their site “dedicated to the development of premium creative imagery that reflects the diversity of female athletes and the vast range of sports they participate in”, according to a press statement.
“To be announced in due course, the new collection will promote a redefined visual representation of sportswomen in the commercial sphere and serve as a resource for marketers, advertisers and media for use in their campaigns and communications. Over time, this creative collection will also develop free to access imagery via dedicated shoots and new commissions for non-commercial use,” the press release outlined.
This initiative was inspired by a recent study released by Girlguiding which showed 93% of females aged between 11-21 years agree that women are judged more on appearance than ability. It also drew from a 2014 study by BT Sports which found 80% of female athletes feel pressure to look a certain way.
There are numerous interviews and stories about high-profile female athletes who have suffered from eating disorders or body image confidence problems due to the pressure placed on them in such a public way. Tennis champion Serena Williams has spoken openly about the criticisms thrown her way in regard to body size and race. UFC champion Ronda Rousey has been very blunt about what she thinks of those who demean her body shape as being less feminine than what narrow beauty standards have taught women to aspire to for a long time.
In response to a question about these types of comments, she adamantly expressed that she is not a “do nothing b**ch” and encourages other girls to follow in her footsteps. As in, her body does not exist for other people’s visual pleasure, it is made to win championships and professional bouts which has made her a household name around the world.
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles spoke about criticisms about her body in the lead up to the Olympics, but we have no doubt her multiple medals both individually and collectively with the “Final Five” would be enough to shut down any attempts to diminish her achievements by focusing on her physical appearance.
While not technically a sport, but requiring an exceptional amount of athletic skill, history-making professional ballerina Misty Copeland has shattered every misconception about what a dancer is “supposed” to look like in her industry. She has refusing to change her muscular body tone to please the ballet world and instead talks about embracing her body shape, despite the fact that the ballet world is overwhelmingly used to seeing Caucasian women in her role.
The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so if young girls and boys grow up viewing male athletes as legitimate, powerful and credible, and female athletes as an extension of the eye candy found in many other industries, then we are failing in the gender equality stakes.
“Women are often scrutinized and judged in a way that men simply are not. What we are wearing and how we look can be talked about more than our performances. We are a diverse, strong, committed and talented group of athletes, let’s start seeing that being fully represented in the media and changing the conversation around women in sports for the better,” said Rugby legend Maggie Alphonsi MBE, commenting on the Getty Images initiative.
Along with the forthcoming collection available on the site, Getty and Women’s Sports Trust have created a set of guidelines they hope media sites and those using their images will follow:
- Sport appeal not sex appeal. Focus on the skill, strength, speed, passion and drama of the sport instead of how the athletes look
- Mix it up. Capture a diverse mix of athletes participating in a wide range of sports
- Keep it real. Authentic, credible imagery that represents the athlete as she’d want to be seen
- Play your part. Everyone involved in the production, reporting and consumption of sporting imagery to take responsibility for the changes they can make
- More is more. Increase the number of images taken and seen
- Be bold. Be creative and push the boundaries, seek out new talent and new audiences
“We are a passionate advocate for the realistic representation of all through imagery, and we are particularly thrilled to be partnering with Women’s Sport Trust to redefine how people view women in sport and female-led sports through imagery,” said Rebecca Swift, Director for Visual Trends at Getty Images.
Both organizations recognize their value as industry leaders and want to use this opportunity to be trailblazers in the creation and distribution of powerful, engaging, brilliant images of sporting women and girls.
“If you bring great pictures and great sport together, you have the potential to change people’s attitudes and inspire,” said Tammy Parlour and Jo Bostock, Co-Founders, Women’s Sport Trust.
Along with their collection, Getty Images will also offer a 12-month paid internship to one up-and-coming female photographer based out of their London offices. The internship will begin in July 2017, and be chosen from a series of portfolio reviews at UK universities and colleges from January-May of 2017. The successful applicant will train as a photographer, editor, and picture desk editor.
Getty’s partnership with the Women’s Sports Trust is part of their ongoing collaboration with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization. The “Lean In” collection is a curation of imagery dedicated to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them.
If you are a school, university or non-profit organization wanting to take advantage of this exciting new initiative and have free access to powerful images of female athletes, click here.