Day four without the Olympics and I have to say I am on a bit of a comedown, suffering from massive withdrawal symptoms. I have never been someone who enjoys watching sporting events. But this year everything changed. I was glued to the TV watching live events as they unfolded and was mesmerised but the many super skilled, strong and confident women. I feel inspired. To watch women like Jessica Ennis win the heptathlon or Nicola Adams become the first-ever female Olympic boxing champion gave me a real high.
Most women we see in the media are defined by their looks and not their skills. Women that are on a constant diet, have undergone multiple surgeries and are being airbrushed to conform to a stereotype of what is considered beautiful or sexy.
We do not see a lot of strong and confident women who go for what they want and get it. This is why I am usually just bored by most action films: they always show male heroes and women are just there as a bit of eye candy and to seduce and corrupt the heroes. But it is the guys who get to drive the fast cars, fight their enemies and blow up buildings. In sport coverage women are nearly invisible. Outside the Olympics only 5% of media coverage is dedicated to female sports. I just get bored watching only men competing all the time.
This is why these Olympics were so great: female athletes were shown competing on prime time TV in front of packed stadiums, supported by an enthusiastic crowd. They cheered for Jessica Ennis as much as for Mo Farah. And for those special moments the world was a better place for me because true equality did not just seem a possibility but a reality. I was like a sponge soaking up as many images of women running, jumping, swimming, boxing, kicking and riding their way to success, women who do not give a shit if they are too big, too muscular or might look “manly”. For once women were being recognized for their skills, strength, courage and determination, and not evaluated for their looks. In the UK this is what all the media focused on: Giving the women, the female athletes what they deserve: respect and admiration for what they were achieving, for making history. So many firsts happened at the Olympics: For the first time women were allowed to compete in all disciplines. (It’s about time!) For the first time every country was represented by female and male athletes. For the first time a female Olympic boxing champion was crowned. The women’s 100m relay set a new world-record. The list goes on.
I was in a bubble for the last few weeks. In the Olympic fever where “Team GB” meant “Team GB” – women and men who enjoyed the games, the highs (many) and lows (few) – TOGETHER. The nation was mesmerised.
But at the periphery of my vision, I started to notice some blips appearing: discussions on Twitter about XX “untidy hair” to which the first ever female African American gymnastics gold medallist Gabrielle Douglas replied: “I am making history, so why are people worried about my hair?” Then there was the closing ceremony which featured stick thin models on a catwalk that looked oddly anaemic and utterly pointless compared to the charismatic female athletes we had previously seen in the stadium. There were also the women in lookalike red cat suits with ponytails that walked next to the pole-bearers. They had no purpose except to look pretty and just seemed odd. Where was the guy candy? Then Brazil took over and had a skinny samba queen prancing round in high heels, suggestively sucking her index finger…how pointless and dated.
Yesterday I then came across the German August Playboy cover featuring five topless female German Olympians. I have no problem with nudity but wonder why these women could not have been photographed in Helmut Newton Style images, celebrating their strength and dominance, rather than making them look like naïve glamour models? It is as if Playboy wants to say that women might be athletes but they are always and foremost women who want to be taken by any men who fancy them. Interestingly on lots of German tabloid sites dedicated to “sexy athletes” only images of petite women in sexy positions (such contorted gymnasts) were posted. Images of muscular, strong women competing in athletics, martial arts or boxing and many of them gold medal winners were missing. As if strength and confidence in women are not attractive and only skinny girls, slim-limbed girls that might take their tops off for the lads count.
And because there are these blips on the radar, is why we need to keep on fighting for fair and equal media representation of women. The UK coverage of the Olympics has shown it is possible. So now we need to pick up the baton and run with it. There is so much we can gain if we acknowledge the fact that more than 50% of humankind is female. Females who can do anything men can do and deserve to be seen and heard.
I will spend my next few evenings watching all the events I missed of women’s sporting events on I-player and already look forward to the Paralympics in two weeks time. Bring on the amazons!