Are we too hung up on body image? What do you think?
11:37 28 February 2014
Double Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington has hit the headlines over speculation that she has had a nose job. The furore has reopened a debate about the battles with body image suffered by women in the public eye and how sportswomen in particular are represented in the media.
How are sportswomen represented in the media?
Dr Amy Godoy-Pressland, a lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, spent two years studying the coverage of women in sports in the mainstream British press.
She says: “I collected over 45,000 articles and photographs and 3.6p% of all that coverage was given to women in sport.
“Around 96% of the main sports coverage was devoted to men. Firstly, what is that saying? That women don’t have a place in the main stream. Within the very, very small number of articles and photographs dedicated to sportswomen we found that in the Sunday Times, 30% of all photographs of women weren’t of sportswomen and were instead of women like female fans, dancers, models and glamour models.”
Dr Godoy-Pressland believes current attitudes to sportswomen are being skewed by a proliferation of celebrity culture, and the representation of sportswomen in the media. She says: “It’s a really complicated issue and a lot of it comes from the scrutiny in the media of women’s bodies and how they look, particularly in terms of sport where it seems to be there’s much more interest in the aesthetics compared to skill and ability.
“There is a question about where is a woman’s place in sport. It’s almost non-existent and when it does exist it focuses on the decorative aspect of how they look rather than how they perform.”
Interestingly, research is starting to suggest that when there is a large sporting event, such as the Olympics, a World Championships or a tennis grand slam, the coverage becomes more equal, not only in terms of gender but also race and disability, as patriotism and national pride come to the fore.
Dr Godoy-Pressland looked at the coverage of London 2012 and found 41% of all photographs were of women. The recent coverage of the Winter Olympics has also seen more focus on women in sport with the likes of Jenny Jones, Lizzy Yarnold and the British women’s curling team performing well in Sochi.
Dr Godoy-Pressland says when women wear very similar sportswear to men, as they do in curling, skeleton and snowboarding, it helps to focus minds on their ability, rather than their looks. However, she can understand why Rebecca Adlington may have felt the need to have cosmetic surgery.
She says: “I understand why she’s done it, but it would be nice to see some people in the media saying it doesn’t matter because what she has achieved in sport is fantastic. It takes a very strong young woman not to bow down to societal pressure.I would like to see more sports journalists and sports editors taking this issue on.This isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a societal issue and we need to work a bit harder and push editors and male journalists to think about their female counterparts a little bit more.”
British swimmer Rebecca Adlington was just 19 when comedian Frankie Boyle said on BBC’s Mock the Week that she resembled “someone who’s looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”. He followed this up by saying she had a “dolphin’s face” ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.
He wasn’t the only one to criticise her looks and the toll clearly showed when Adlington broke down on national television because of insecurities about her body image during I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here.
Sadly Adlington isn’t the only sportswoman to be ‘trolled’ for her appearance. Just last month a Twitter Q&A with Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle, hosted by Sky Sports News, shone a light on the vile abuse hurled at sportswomen on social media.
While Twitter and its counterparts have opened the door for individuals to publicly pick over the appearance of celebrities, traditional media and sporting bodies also have to be held to account for the way in which they present women in sport.
Remember in 2011 when no women made it onto the shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and it turned out two of the nominating editors were from lads’ mags Nuts and Zoo?
Or when Fifa decided that it would be a good idea to choose a Brazilian model wearing a skin-tight gold dress with a plunging neckline to conduct the World Cup draw? And what does that say about the role that women have in football?
“I just want to be the best version of myself,” Adlington told one interviewer, adding that she would never have surgery for other people, and if she ever went ahead she would be doing it for herself.
The pressure on women to look good, even those not in the public eye, means many of us can understand why Adlington may have felt the need to alter her looks, but it doesn’t stop women from lamenting that it should be so.
What do you think? Is there too much pressure on women to look a certain way? Write, giving full contact details, to EDP Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk