Over the past couple of weeks I was obsessed by the Olympics. This is the highlight of my year, and I have been getting up at stupid o’clock to watch swimming finals, screaming at the TV over all the amazing sporting achievements. Watching these athletes at the top of their game is incredibly inspiring and can be hugely influential in getting people into sport. However there has been something that has clouded the action, and has been repeatedly commented on; the media’s representation of female athletes in comparison to the men.
Whether it’s being referred to as someone’s wife just after winning an Olympic medal, or comments on an athlete’s physical appearance, there’s no doubt women have been treated differently. In each sport, and in every country it seems, the media are portraying women in relation to their marital status, or their looks, and not their sporting performance. Comments on hair, makeup, clothing, stature, muscularity and strength all seem to have been made, and a lot of it has been negative. This isn’t just a shame but a real worry.
The past few years have seen huge steps forward for female empowerment; we are repeatedly told to love ourselves, be comfortable in our own skin, be strong and not stick thin, and that curves and muscles are all to be celebrated, yet the coverage of these Olympics seem to have been saying the complete opposite. Media often reflects public opinion, so are all these encouraging messages of body confidence actually fake? Do we actually still think appearance is more important than performance?
I doubt there is any woman who hasn’t been at fault for focusing too much on their appearance instead of their performance. Have you ever watched or listened to a recording of yourself, and instead of focusing on the content and your actual performance, instead you nit-pick over how your hair is, the fact you go red, how your dress looks a bit weird, or how you don’t like the sound of your voice? Have you ever been in a yoga class or in the gym, and instead of focusing on the movement, find yourself catching yourself in the mirror and stressing over how your stomach looks, or how sweaty you look, or how you just ‘look a bit stupid’? Have you ever stopped yourself doing something in fear of ‘looking bad’? These are all occasions of focusing on appearance over performance, and it holds us back from our own potential. Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t care how you looked. Then go do it.
From now on, tell yourself to focus less on your own appearance, and instead focusing on being better; being the best you you can be. So what if you think you look a bit stupid? I can almost guarantee that no one around you will care; if you’re doing something impressive, whether that’s squatting a PB, or delivering a presentation, the performance is so much more important than the appearance. This is what the Olympics should only be about; the incredible accomplishments of both the male and female athletes, and not how they have worn their hair or who they are married to. They have trained for years to be at the absolute peak state and perform in ways the rest of us can only dream of; let that be the only focus, and enable people around the world to inspire to be better and do more, not to worry about how they look.