Marion Bartoli wins the Wimbledon championship. The crowd cheers, she celebrates and rushes to hug her father and former coach. And BBC Sport announcer John Inverdale chooses that moment to comment upon what he considers Bartoli’s lack of good looks. On Twitter and other social media sites, tennis fans let loose with attacks on the player’s looks, sexual attractiveness, even questioning her biological sex.
This is what sexualization looks like. It is assigning all of the value that a woman has to her physical attractiveness. It is discounting her achievements because, no matter her level of physical prowess, intelligence, or strength, she is not meeting the primary expectation of a woman: to be sexy. When female athletes, politicians, activists, and others in the public eye cannot achieve anything without having their physical appearance commented upon, we know that sexualization and objectification are alive and well. And it hurts all of us. It forces every single female to consider her looks at the most inopportune time, to think about what others will think not of who she IS, but of how she LOOKS.
Women and girls deserve the chance to be the best that they can be, not look the best that they can look. They deserve the chance to follow their dreams, cultivate their talents, without regard for how others will find their appearance. They deserve the chance to follow their true path, and doing that requires vulnerability. As Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly,
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
But how can one truly become vulnerable if there is the constant threat of criticism about something over which we have so little control? Some of the comments about Bartoli focused on her being “fat.” Really? This woman is a professional athlete and champion. She is not fat. But she doesn’t fit the media generated version of the thin ideal, and so her body is criticized.
It’s time for us to work together to fight this view of women as objects. It’s time to stand against a worldview that hurts our daughters and keeps them from achieving greatness. It’s time to cultivate the ability to dare greatly, and that only comes from the courage to be vulnerable. So how do we help our girls attain that courage? Here are a few ideas:
In the midst of the ugly, objectifying response to Bartoli’s Wimbledon win, she herself shone like a light in the darkness. When asked about her response to the attacks on her physical attractiveness, the athlete said,
“It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”
This is a response of courage, of a woman who believes in herself and her talent. May we raise more girls who have the courage to be themselves.