Girl Talk: Shiny! Pretty! Skimpy! Women in Sport

Girl Talk: Shiny! Pretty! Skimpy! Sporty!

The Meriden Rhythmix coached by Danielle Le Ray
A gold medallist performed on Australia's Got Talent last night. And like Kyle, Dannii and Brian, we here at GWAS had never heard of her before (and, fittingly, the show's website doesn't either: for the record, her name is Naazmi Johnston and she killed a grasshoper with her hoop to take out Commonwealth Games gold in her ribbon routine in Delhi and also made history with Australia's first all-round gold medal in 16 years!).

Shiny, sparkly, skimpy... yet accomplishing amazing feats of mind, body and spirit. Emma Plant looks at the reportage of women in sport and the focus on marketing the female form over her function.

Any woman who has ever perused a newspaper, magazine or cantered through a sports bar a la Black Caviar (the number one female athlete in the world... and, yes, a horse!) would have spotted the void in media coverage of female athletes. Column inches seem only to be allocated to one who props a bikini, looks exceptionally pretty while sweating like a pig, or happens to be standing alongside a man (or jockey).

Where is the justification for the disparity in female sports coverage? Why do many a fit lassie say yes to enabling and receiving this warped media coverage? Observe the recent media hype of professional female surfer Alana Blanchard. While Blanchard displays sportswoman’s prowess above and beyond many of her competitors, she also is pictured in a ‘V string’ bikini in nearly every one of her photographs. Why not on a wave?

Blanchard and others have been compared to Anna Kournikova and the unyielding attention she received for her minimalist tennis outfits. Yet, compared to the way things have been ‘progressing’, Kournikova is seemingly prudish.

In the last few weeks the phenomena of the LFL has peaked. Explanation; the Lingerie Football League ( The female athletes – and don’t be mistaken, they are amazing athletes – play in a professional league with media coverage that levels the men’s. The downside? Well that’s it, the downside isn’t covered up. The ladies can wear their protective padding and helmets, as long as slow motion cameras can still capture an 80% nude body. One can quietly assume who the target audience is for the LFL.

Is this women liberating themselves and working their bodies (‘by choice’) to their advantage? Or is it the only known means to success?

Some opinion leaders in women’s sport are taking proactive steps forward. In partnership with Rexona and the Seven Network, Australian Women’s Health magazine has branded its initiative, "I support women in sport". The proposal works as a pledge-based system with two main focuses for women: recognition and participation. The aim is to obtain 100,000 pledges to the cause, either a pledge to participate in, or watch women’s sport. So far the initiative has seen reasonable success.

Is reasonable fair, though? When you consider some of the amazing achievements of women on and off the proverbial field (champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore, bashed with an iron bar by an attacker in December, returning to the circuit; shark attack victim Bethany Hamilton inspiring so many with her positivity with a film, Soul Surfer, based on her story coming to cinemas soon), all the while our sportsmen attract dubious media coverage for deplorable behaviour, you've got to wonder if evening the playing field out for girls – in media, sponsorship, money – will be cause for the boys to pull their socks up.

Men’s Health editor, and former sports writer, Ian Cockeril cites David Beckham as proof that blokes cop their fair share of objectifying coverage. “This is a quagmire of a subject," says Cockeril. "Is the media guilty of giving more coverage to successful athletes of both sexes who also happen to be attractive? Yes. Is this imbalance more pronounced with female athletes? These days, I’m not so sure.”

But the sexy-sells, glamorous image for female sportswomen far outweighs the more factual reportage. In 2010 the Australian Sports Commission showed television coverage of women’s sport held just 2.3% of total sports broadcasting. Radio coverage surveyed at a figure of 1.7 % and sports magazines tallied in at 7.2%. Pick up a newspaper, skim through the sports pullout, and count how many photographs of women you see.

The common thread in all these success stories is minimal garb. Sex sells. This is the rationalization we offer for any of the scantily clad. Playing on our instinctive desire to see a state of undress, yes, sex sells, but at what price? Why should media attention in women’s sport be reserved for such carnal desires?

It is a hard decision for young women who know they can capitalize on their looks: can we blame them if it is the only guaranteed and known route to success? A tough predicament, indeed. Dress less, gain sponsorship, media attention and even celebrity, or… button up, flesh down (buy shares in horse) and wait on equality.

See also:
'Women in sport hit glass ceiling' by Elizabeth Broderick
'Fighting Back' by Sandra Sully
'Women's sports need better hair days' by Clare Harvey

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Clare Harvey wrote a great piece on this issue in the sunday tele not long ago. See also.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Added, thank you, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Actually this one! look like she's really on to this issue...