Girls need inspiration in sport, not abuse

Melinda Tankard Reist’s column in today’s Sydney Sun-Herald, ‘The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport’ (to which I will add a link when I can track it down) is excellent. Well-known for her forthright views on the premature sexualisation of girls in particular, Melinda is passionate about speaking out and making a difference in how we as a society portray women, and how we stop objectifying women as little more than sex objects. I enjoyed meeting her recently, and we clearly share a common purpose in this area.

The premise of her article is that we seem to have come to a situation where sporting excellence by women is undermined by the perception of the wider world that “Women judged to not possess hot bodies, or who fail to exude sex appeal to the ogling masses, are unworthy of sporting pursuits”. She reflects on two stories to hit the news recently in this respect – the personal abuse, directed at her appearance, experienced by Marion Bartoli after her Wimbledon success; and the Roxy Pro surfing promotion which has elicited comment because it focuses less on surfing, and more on the sexiness of the model.

Both cases – public discussion of how successful sportswomen look, rather than their sporting prowess – have been incredibly damaging (once again) to how girls perceive their own bodies, and to how likely they are to take up or continue sport. Why would they do this, if they are to face criticism directed at their appearance rather than approval directed at their achievements? Sport and physical fitness are essential to wellbeing in life; so too is a healthy body image. None of these are supported when we allow, as if it were a normal part of our society, such objectification. Our girls deserve inspiration, not denigration.

The only glimpse of positivity in this debate is that there is a debate at all. Not everyone has been taken in; not everyone, by far, think that either Bartoli’s treatment or the Roxy Pro advert is right. There are voices out there talking common sense – we need to listen to them, and add our own in support. Our young people – and our world will be healthier as a result.

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