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“Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.” — Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Okay, so the first image that comes to your mind when you think of “athletes” are of the male variety– Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James…. But what about female athletes? Maybe they’re not as discussed as the male ones, but they’ve earned their merits- think, Maria Sharapova, Michelle Wie, or Danica Patrick, amongst plenty of others…

When you think about it, female athletes are and seemingly always have been at somewhat of a disadvantage in American sports culture. It seems like since the beginning of time, sporting events have always been about men competing- think of the original Olympic games or the jousting events of Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe, respectively. Perhaps this came from the long-held misconception that women should be strictly responsible for raising the family and being the mistress of the house.

Today, these archaic beliefs and our culture’s obsession with a particular type of women’s sexuality put female athletes at even more of a disadvantage. Their healthy bodies and strong spirits do not necessarily fit into the media’s battering ram of other images of women. Women that we see in advertising and on magazine covers are slim (sometimes to the point of anorexia), small, weak, and gaze at you with that vacant stare. Women in advertising and magazines don’t have the strength of body and spirit that female athletes do, and this makes female athletes unsure about their role in life.

On the one hand, girls who play sports are taught to be tough, not sweat the small stuff and to believe in themselves. After all, what shot could be made without a huge dose of self confidence? On the other hand, many female athletes don’t have the very slim body that is perpetuated in the media they consume. And while they may strive for that singular body type, developing eating disorders disables female athletes from excelling in their chosen sport.

Thus a conundrum is faced. On the one hand, many women’s magazines have joined a movement of female empowerment and highlight these women for young girls to emulate. On the other hand, female athletics are not taken as seriously in the media.

When was the last time you discussed the WNBA? This lack of respect for female athletes in the sexy spreads that they model for in magazines and online “hottest athlete babe” countdowns.

On a happier note, despite the media’s limited view of feminine beauty that maybe doesn’t accept the stocky female lacrosse player or the tall, lanky female basketball player, these women have and continue to be role models for young girls. They often times overcome a great many obstacles to stand where they stand today and thus continuously inspire. They make young girls who play sports believe that they too can beat the odds. And in the end, having beautiful, intelligent, athletic role models is not a bad thing.

(reposted with permission)

Author Anastasia Strgar is  a third year public relations student at the University of Oregon. She hopes to pursue a career in crisis management for athletes. Check out her blog Mending Bumps & Bruises.

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