An insult to Cathy Freeman and other sportswomen
Collective Shout posted the piece below on the fiasco that was this years ‘I support women in sport’ awards hosted by Women’s Health Magazine.
Woman’s Health Magazine editor Felicity Harley had said in response to the furore: “It is disappointing that this has become the focus rather than the phenomenal sporting talents of our Australian female athletes.”
And why do you think that was Felicity? It’s you and Women’s Health who caused this to be the case by sending spectacularly conflicting messages about what you valued in women. If it’s ‘phenomenal sporting talent’ you’re interested in, why pay four topless women to turn up? Were we supposed to overlook these almost-naked painted models parading at a signature event supposedly celebrating the sporting achievements of female athletes?
Since then, as the social media condemnation grew and Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Women Sport and Recreation Association, ramped things up with this piece, Women’s Health was forced into an apology.
The fact that at least one man admitted on Women’s Health Facebook page to getting off on the images shows how wrong they got it.
Initial reports left out the image of the model representing Cathy Freeman, painted in her designer one-piece Olympic running suit and she was not referred to. Perhaps this was to protect her dignity, I’m not sure. However, this insult to Freeman must be named. Of the four, her replica is the most recognisable.
I have some questions for Women’s Health. Where did you find the models? Who was the agency? Did Women’s Health make deliberate specifications regarding women’s breast size, for example? Who was hired to painted their bodies (including the logos just above one of the model’s nipples)? Who were the models hired to entertain exactly?
It’s one thing when men do this to women (most of the time). But when women facilitate the objectification of women and do so under a banner of celebrating sporting achievement, it’s even more depressing. Have sexualised representations of women, including women who have achieved greatly, become so normal and mainstream that even women editors of a popular women’s health magazine didn’t see a problem?
The Women’s Health Australia “I support women in sport awards” was held this week to recognise the achievements of Australia’s female athletes.
Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley said the night was “all about giving recognition and telling the stories of Australian sportswomen, who don’t get enough coverage for their efforts and talents.”
A worthy goal indeed. Harley is right – sportswomen don’t get enough coverage for their talents and efforts. The sexual objectification of female athletes is a long-standing problem in our culture which continues to have a negative impact on the health and well-being of women and girls and limits their participation in sport.
This makes the decision to hire topless women for the event – wearing only underpants and body paint -even more bizarre.
Female athletes and advocates for women in sport were quick to call out Women’s Health Magazine for reinforcing the sexual objectification of women in sport:
Danielle Warby, a board director of the Australian Womensport and Recreation Association asked Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley for an explanation. Harley responded by dodging responsibility and blaming the media.
Harley also hasn’t explained why Women’s Health Australia hired naked models.
Speaking to the SMH, Warby said “The sexualisation of women in sport is a massive issue,”…”These women are not athletes, they are naked and I don’t know why they are there.”
Here’s why this is important:
Sexual objectification undermines women and girls equal participation in sport.
Focusing on an athlete’s physical attributes in an overtly sexual manner can create anxiety and embarrassment for the individual. This may be compounded by a heightened body awareness already present in many female athletes. If the athlete does not feel she ‘measures up’ to an external judgment of her physique, her self-esteem may suffer.
A potential consequence of lowered self-esteem is compromised athletic performance. The athlete becomes distracted both on and off the arena of sport, and may be tempted into unhealthy eating habits. In younger athletes, where self-confidence may be less secure, the increased focus on the body because of sexploitation can lead to a poor body image. There is a wealth of research linking poor body image with increased risk of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours.
(source: Jan Borrie, Shaping up to the image makers, Panorama, The Canberra Times, 27 May 2000)
A Magazine titled “Women’s Health” should know better than to pull a stunt like this. Our elite female athletes – and the young aspiring athletes looking to follow their example – deserve better.
Take Action! Make your voice heard – Tweet, Facebook or email
Tweet Womens Health Magazine @womenshealthaus
Tweet Australian Government is included amoung the sponsors of the event. Contact the Minister for Health and Sport Peter Dutton. @PeterDutton_MP
Follow Danielle Warby’s advice:
Minister for Health and Sport Peter Dutton Minister.Dutton@health.gov.au
Women’s Health Magazine: firstname.lastname@example.org
More reading on the sexual exploitation of women in sport
Our 2010 campaign re Bikini Track sprint
Cori Schumacher on Roxy and ‘sex sells’
Melinda Tankard Reist on Marion Bartoli and Leisl Jones
The campaign against the Lingerie Football League in Australia