Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

#Bartoli and #Sexualization

Marion Bartoli at the 2009 US Open

Marion Bartoli at the 2009 US Open (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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:

  • Focus on Strengths: Don’t focus on the physical. Refrain from commenting on your girl’s or other people’s physical appearance in connection to her worth or value. Instead, focus on what she can do well, what her gifts and talents are, and her strengths.
  • Praise Courage: Give your girl kudos when she is willing to step out on a limb and try something new. Let her know that you believe in her.
  • Encourage vulnerability: Your daughter will be hurt by the everyday sexualization that focuses solely on her appearance. But she needs to be able to be vulnerable with you. Let her be herself with you, loved and accepted just for who she is. Build her belief in herself by first believing in the beautiful, authentic person that she was made to be, and then by sharing that with her.

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.

21 comments on “#Bartoli and #Sexualization

  1. Kevin Dark
    July 12, 2013


  2. Kevin Dark
    July 12, 2013

    This is a beautiful, talented athlete. She is a true champion. The people that are criticizing her cannot come close to her accomplishments.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 12, 2013

      Agreed! Marion Bartoli has so many great characteristics. Why didn’t the BBC commentator mention those?

  3. davetharave
    July 11, 2013

    Horrible thing for him to say; in the words of his countrymen he is a ‘miserable lout’

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      It was horrible. Bartoli is a great athlete and fierce competitor. Why not talk about that?

  4. Taru Fisher
    July 10, 2013

    Physical beauty is useless without inner beauty. Physical beauty fades; inner beauty does not. Since I was a very young girl, I ignored the outer to focus on the inner in all my friends. When I was in high school, I stood up against girls who were bullying a developmentally challenged teenager, and paid the price…which I willingly paid. I will not stand for injustice, cruelty, meanness.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      I love that! The true beauty of each unique individual is what I want to see, and to teach children to see.

  5. Pingback: When women look strong: The sexism at Wimbledon | Rebecca Hains

  6. nathanalbert
    July 9, 2013

    Reblogged this on The Fotographing Fat Kid (But Not For Long!) and commented:
    Fantastic commentary on the Bartoli sexualization controversy. Dr. Shewmaker is challenging us to be better as a society and I applaud her poignant words.
    Readers, it’s 2013 for goodness sake. We should have evolved past this ridiculousness already.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      Thanks, Nathan. I agree, it’s high time for all of us to say no more to this nonsense.

  7. jason
    July 9, 2013

    Where does she get her validation? Her father. She does not yearn for validation from anyone else because her father has invested himself in her and has answered her question. Am I pretty enough? Yes. Am I strong enough? Yes. Am I loved? Yes. Take note, fathers.

    • Janis
      July 10, 2013

      Jason, I completely agree! I do think every girl needs that question answered, “Am I pretty enough?” Our Daddy’s are the first one’s we look to to answer that question. Beauty can be seen in so many different ways, so I don’t shy away from telling my daughter she’s beautiful. And, haven’t we all seen physical beauty that isn’t pretty at all when we get a glimpse of their heart. True beauty comes from within and shines brightly on the outside.

      • Jennifer Shewmaker
        July 11, 2013

        The beauty of each individual and their uniqueness is what I try to stress. Using our strengths and making this world a better place is beautiful!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      Bartoli certainly learned to focus on her value in ways other than the physical. Parents are important in teaching that lesson!

  8. Walter
    July 9, 2013

    Men and women are the two wings of a bird, until they are balanced the bird can’t fly properly.

  9. Carolyn Balaam
    July 8, 2013

    Appalling! I missed the comment – must have been out of the room. I actually thought how attractive she was when being interviewed with her her hair down and a softness in her speech that was very demure. How ignorant of John Inverdale and others who wrote such rubbish.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      Carolyn, I also thought it was strange for people to comment that Bartoli is unattractive. In fact, she’s not. She just doesn’t meet the airbrushed, photoshopped standard of beauty that many have come to expect. Her competitive nature and confidence are beautiful!

  10. Angela Mathews
    July 8, 2013

    Reblogged this on AvantWhat? and commented:
    When will women cease to be viewed only as sexual objects? This article demonstrates how this kind of bigotry still infects our medias

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      Thanks for sharing, Angela!

  11. Love this! Thanks for speaking out in defence of women’s accomplishments. It’s so degrading to always have our looks commented on. I love Marion Bartoli’s response, that her aim in life is not to be a model. And yet, society (men and women alike) look at all women as if they all SHOULD be models. It’s so limiting and degrading. My husband and I wrote a blog about what men can do to help stop this oppression of women. Thought you might like to read it: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2013/06/24/7-things-men-can-do-to-help-undo-the-oppression-of-women/

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 11, 2013

      Thanks for the comment. I love her response too!

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