Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Strong bodies, strong sexualization

Other people have already said a lot about the sexualization of women's bodies during the Olympics - in magazines, in uniforms, in commentating and by the absence of discussion of men's attractiveness, and in expectations of what a female body should look like. They're all great discussions and raise questions about the public display of women's bodies, both in athletic settings and just in general.

I don't want to repeat too much of what has already been said, but I began thinking about the display of strong female bodies while watching American Gladiators a few weeks ago. Much like the Olympics, the women's uniforms were a lot "sexier" than the men's; for example, women are often in bikinis (or things similiar). One women's outfit consists of a black leather corset while another wears a skirt. Not only do their outfits reflect this, the pictures and poses often try to make the women look as sexy as possible while the men's photos mostly work to show their physical strength (or potential for physical strength).

Is it possible to show a women's body in public that displays strength but without sexualizing it?

In an athletic setting, I think soccer does a pretty good job on the uniform end. I'm just not sure if we can escape the curse of the bikini, especially in cases like the Olympics where it's required for beach volleyball. Superhero movies don't help either, when Catwoman and Wonder Woman even have to deal with it.

When thinking about it, I was reminded of this picture that does a pretty good job, in my opinion.

I am a little bias, though. That's my great grandma Fern, one of the coolest ladies I know. Not an athletic uniform, but still, the photo displays a sense of strength.

10 comments:

Amelia said...

Oh, strong, female athletes. Why does it seem that to be strong and athletic automatically means a loss of identity? It's like someone can't possibly be a female and be muscular/strong/athletic, because that's so...MANLY! So they have to make sure those female athletes dress extra femininely-sexual so we can tell them apart from men.

I think that it is possible to show a woman's body in public in a way that shows strength without it being sexualized, but the main problem seems to be how people perceive the traits "strong" and "athletic" - most people see these things as masculine. So how do we as a society (that is still rather set in fitting things nicely and often artificially "boy" and "girl" categories) cope with the confusion of strong females? We sexualize them as an added reminder that they are, in fact, women.

I think that's wrong. Strength is not solely a masculine trait, but we need to work on how we view things like this in order to stop the absurd amount of sexualization that happens to women athletes.

Hope that wasn't a ramble. I'm a bit tired. :)

la mestiza said...

this reminds me, my little sister was thinking about joining her high school's all girl flag football team. the team's name is the POWDERPUFFS. a FOOTBALL team. why would any sports team want to be named after something dainty? it sports! be powerful! but you're girl, so not too powerful.

D said...

Well, it's also because people ARE attracted to excellent physical specimens. There's nothing inherently wrong in finding someone in top condition attractive.

I would find just as much wrong with going out of one's way to hide it, or cover it up. Then you'd be implying there's something wrong with the femaleness of the athlete in question.

Just because a lot of the body is shown, isn't necessarily making it sexual. When you see more skin on an athlete, as they move, you can watch every sinew and tendon moving in harmony, with perfect precision like a well-tuned engine. Watching a body move like that is a beautiful thing, completely without it being sexual.

I'm sure, though, in beach volleyball, the men would go shirtless, except they'd have nowhere to put the uniform numbers.

Also, Halle Berry is not Catwoman, and that movie has nothing to do with Catwoman, and just happens to share a title. :D

As far as I'm concerned, film-wise, this is Catwoman:

http://www.turgentesdeficcion.org
/wp-content/uploads/images/
350px-MichellePfeifferCatwoman.jpg

To amelia, "strong" (at least physically) is usually given as a "masculine" trait, because in general, males are physically stronger than females. No sexism, just genetics. We just are. That's not to say women can't be physically strong as well, just to generally say why that is why it is.

Amelia said...

To be honest, I am sick of this argument:

To amelia, "strong" (at least physically) is usually given as a "masculine" trait, because in general, males are physically stronger than females. No sexism, just genetics. We just are. That's not to say women can't be physically strong as well, just to generally say why that is why it is.

You addressed the issue that men don't automatically have a monopoly on strength, so if you recognize that hypocrisy, why not fight it?

I would also like to say to some of D's other arguments.

Well, it's also because people ARE attracted to excellent physical specimens. There's nothing inherently wrong in finding someone in top condition attractive.

Beauty is subjective, and it is different among cultures and parts of the world. Americans may have been programmed to find skinny, toned people attractive, but that doesn't mean it's the only beauty standard in the world.

I would find just as much wrong with going out of one's way to hide it, or cover it up. Then you'd be implying there's something wrong with the femaleness of the athlete in question.

I find this irrelavent because someone can be fully clothed and still display impressive amounts of strength. If it is the strength that is being evaluated and appreciated, and not the athlete's body, your point makes no sense.

D said...

You addressed the issue that men don't automatically have a monopoly on strength, so if you recognize that hypocrisy, why not fight it?

I just mean if you take a woman and a man of similar height, weight, and build, and give them both equal physical strength training, at the conclusion of said training, the male will almost always have more physical strength than the female.

I don't find it sexist to point that out.

Beauty is subjective, and it is different among cultures and parts of the world. Americans may have been programmed to find skinny, toned people attractive, but that doesn't mean it's the only beauty standard in the world.

I don't see how it's a "beauty standard". Olympic athletes are the pinnacle of human physical condition. It has nothing to do with "programming".

Being in excellent physical shape isn't a "beauty standard".

It's sort of insulting to their achievements, that you manage to compress all they've done, and all the training and hard work they've put into their bodies and call it a "beauty standard".

I find this irrelavent because someone can be fully clothed and still display impressive amounts of strength. If it is the strength that is being evaluated and appreciated, and not the athlete's body, your point makes no sense.

Their strength is IN their body. Their body is what is doing all of this. My point was, I'd have no doubt that if the women had more covered-up bodies than the males, someone would point out that it was making it seem as though the female-ness of the athletes was a problem.

Also, see my other point on the body.

Watching it work is beautiful. Not beautiful in the sense of a beauty standard, or in the sense of sex, but in the appreciation of something as close to physically perfect as a human can get. Also, not physically perfect as a beauty standard, or anything you might think I'm implying.

The body is an organic machine. Watching an athlete move, watching the muscles flex and tense, it's like, for lack of a better word, as I said before, a perfectly tuned and timed engine.

Amelia said...

I will refer back to your previous comment, D, in which you said Well, it's also because people ARE attracted to excellent physical specimens. There's nothing inherently wrong in finding someone in top condition attractive.

And then you said Being in excellent physical shape isn't a "beauty standard".

It's sort of insulting to their achievements, that you manage to compress all they've done, and all the training and hard work they've put into their bodies and call it a "beauty standard".


I never said that being in top physical condition was a beauty standard. I was pointing out your first comment in which you suggested that all people are inherently (physically) attracted to "excellent physical specimen." That is a beauty standard. Westeran cultures may find those sorts of "physical specimen" sexually attractive, but in other cultures around the world may find other body types sexually attractive (like larger, or frailer bodies, etc.).

Most people can appreciate the wonders of a physically fit person and what they can do with their body, but to suggest that all people find such people sexually attractive is rather ethnocentric.

D said...

Right, because what you're saying sounds a lot like an underhanded way of trying to claim that being fit is an "unrealistic beauty standard", or something.

I was just pointing out that it's perfectly natural to be physically attracted to someone in top physical form.

That is a beauty standard. Westeran cultures may find those sorts of "physical specimen" sexually attractive, but in other cultures around the world may find other body types sexually attractive (like larger, or frailer bodies, etc.).

You're missing the point, and it sounds like you're trying to get a jab in and say "Some cultures like fat people!" or something.

My point is, a human body at the pinnacle of fitness is attractive. It's not a "western beauty standard".

It's inherent strength, speed, litheness, power, speaks to people on a basic level. It's something to appreciate. From gladiators in ancient Rome, to various other champions and heroes of ancient civilization. People appreciate those in good condition.

Most people can appreciate the wonders of a physically fit person and what they can do with their body, but to suggest that all people find such people sexually attractive is rather ethnocentric.

Excepting all cultures (as the Olympics show) can produce wonderfully fit persons. That are looked up to and adored.

Amelia said...

Alright, D, since you sunk to making assumptions about what I was saying (Right, because what you're saying sounds a lot like an underhanded way of trying to claim that being fit is an "unrealistic beauty standard", or something.) and seem somewhat unreasonable, I am no longer going to partake in this discussion!

D said...

Alright, D, since you sunk to making assumptions about what I was saying (Right, because what you're saying sounds a lot like an underhanded way of trying to claim that being fit is an "unrealistic beauty standard", or something.) and seem somewhat unreasonable, I am no longer going to partake in this discussion!

I made no assumptions. I said "What you're saying SOUNDS LIKE".

Because you continually associated being fit with "beauty standard", and when a feminist says "beauty standard", the "unrealistic" is usually implied.

I didn't say that's what you were saying, I said that's how you made it sound.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that in some African cultures, larger ladies (some might call them fat) are very desirable. To be thin is to be ugly.

I agree whole-heartedly with this post. Women's bodies are sexualized in every imaginable context. For example, a while back, I wanted a picture of a woman warrior as a background for my computer. So, I googled images for "female warrior." I was increasingly disgusted by all the pictures of nearly naked women! I tried several word combinations--woman warrior, strong women, even women ninjas. So many of the pictures were of scantily-clad WHITE women.

In fact, very, very few (I'm tempted to say none, but I can't quite recall) of the pictures were of Black women. Most of them were White women.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and forcing a narrow view of it on the entire population is wrong.