We Need To Address The Issue Of Female Athletes Being Bullied For Their Bodies

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You all know what we’re talking about. Many of us are even guilty of partaking in conversations about it. But it is an issue that needs to stop. The bullying of female athletes in regard to their bodies is a horrible and pervasive trend that has become common fodder in the media and with audiences.

There are two distinct types of bullying. There is the type that seeks to degrade tennis champ and Olympic athlete Serena Williams for having a muscular body, totally disregarding her virtuoso performance on the tennis court. A recent article in the New York Times, published around the time Serena just won herself another Wimbledon title, was heavily scrutinized for focusing exclusively on how certain female tennis stars deal with body image.

Would you ever see an article like that about Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal? Of course not!

UFC undefeated champion Ronda Rousey is another athlete who SHOULD only be getting headlines about her powerful performances in the ring, yet because she is female get’s the “let’s pick apart her body and general appearance” treatment.

It’s as if we as a society are still so shocked that women’s bodies are to be used for anything other than to be looked at!

The other type of bullying is objectification. Going back to the tennis arena, players such as Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova quickly became the focus of attention because of their slender bodies and blonde locks.

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Many female athletes have lamented that because of the pay disparity between them and men who play the same sport, they often have to resort to allowing their bodies to be sexualized in advertising as it is in some cases the only way they can get sponsorship and a salary high enough to pay their living.

Why should people like Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer (who are probably the furthest thing from Ryan Gosling or Brad Pitt in terms of appearances) get respect simply because of their talent, but women have to put up with the added burden of needing to look a certain way in order to achieve the same level of fame?

Is it the media’s fault for positioning male and female athletes differently in the first place, or our problem as audiences for not caring about the hurtful names we call some of these female athletes because of their bodies? We think it is a bit of both, and then it becomes a topic of great interest during interviews with these elite female athletes.

On the plus side, being forced to address this issue has enabled many women to speak powerful messages of body acceptance. Messages that place more emphasis on the functional ability of a body, as opposed to just its appearance is something that has become very important around this issue.

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Cosmopolitan Magazine recently interviewed 5 female athletes about body image and how they have each been bullied and stereotyped because of it. Instagram fitness star Massy Arias, Olympic Gold medalists Natasha Hastings and Sanya Richards-Ross, UFC fighter Jessica Eye, and Crossfit trainer and NASCAR pit team crew member Christmas Abbott each shared reasons why today, they love that their bodies don’t fit the idealized mold women are expected to conform to.

Natasha Hastings won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics for Team USA and told Cosmo that she was bullied in school for looking like a boy.

“Growing up, my mom was also an athlete and always talked to me about loving myself. But it took competing over the years and having great success to really get over my insecurities,” she said.

Her advice to women would be not to fall into the trap of shaming yourself because no woman has the “perfect” body.

“It’s unfortunate that some people don’t appreciate women’s athletic bodies. I think we live in a world where beauty comes in so many different shades, sizes, and colors. I think it’s insane to try to put beauty in this box. It’s just other people projecting their own insecurities onto you,” she said.

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Sanya Richards-Ross is a four-time Olympic gold medalist for Team USA in track and field and was also bullied in school because she was very skinny.

“When I was younger, I was really, really skinny and really tall — taller than most of the boys. I used to get ridiculed in school when I was in elementary school and growing up. Here’s what I would say to the people that bullied me when I was a kid: Look at me now!” she said.

She believes women become true champions when they embrace their bodies and work on themselves FOR themselves, not to please society.

“I think bullying is wrong and terrible, but you have to use it for fuel and make it into something positive. The bullies made me stronger and embrace who I was. I had to be the tall, skinny girl to become that fast, tall, skinny girl and become a champion,” she said.

The media needs to do a much better job of channeling conversations about female athletes in a way that doesn’t continue the trend of holding them to some unrealistic beauty standards. There is no way we can force the beauty and fashion ideals upon any athlete because their bodies are made for an entirely different purpose!

As viewers and audiences, we too can play our part by choosing the way we share opinions about female and male athletes. Why do we only care about what Lionel Messi does on the field, but only talk about Maria Sharapova outside of the tennis court?

Take a look at the Cosmo video below to hear why bullying female athletes for their body image is a trend that needs to disappear immediately!

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