Category Archives: Sports

The ESPN Body Issue & #HuskyTwitter

Last week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the annual ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue”, which features naked portraits of lots of people who can do some crazy powerful/graceful/coordinated shit with their bodies. The cover star, baseball player Prince Fielding, is an atypical choice for ESPN and quickly launched the #HuskyTwitter hashtag in celebration of a different kind of athletic body.

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I’m all for celebrating different kinds of athletic bodies, but I’m still dismayed to see that the women featured in the Body Issue generally don’t get to break the mold of traditional “athletic” the way that Fielder does. Where are the husky female athletes? A sleuthing reader dug back through the archives and found this 2009 entry with shotputter Michelle Carter.

Screenshot_7_14_14_11_07_AM-2He also pointed out that there aren’t as many sports that allow for husky women to excel; they don’t get funneled into linebacker positions on the football team or heavy wrestling weightclasses. Sure, maybe, but it’s also about whose bodies we are comfortable celebrating as “Bodies We Want,” which is what ESPN titles the series. We don’t see Taylor Townsend, Holley Mangold, Rebecca Adlington or other, phenomenally gifted female athletes as possessing desirable bodies because they don’t fit the only mold we’ve been taught is desirable.

Prince Fielder is certainly a deviation from the normal ab-fest we expect to see in these stories, and that’s a great start. Men need variation in “Bodies We Want,” too. But let’s not forget the ladies as we break body barriers and celebrate the husky athletes. We’re here too!

Related Post: Is it objectifying to ogle World Cup soccer players?

Related Post: 1 in 4 women don’t exercise because they don’t like the way they look

 

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Feedback on Sexy-Soccer-Player Debate

Last week I wrote about the Sexist Thighs genre of World Cup listicles, the ones that zoom in on rippling muscles and rank the “best” of the body parts. In my essay, I tried to walk the fine line between acknowledging the problematic double standard of sexualizing female athletes (which I frown upon) and male athletes (which some people say is A-Ok because it’s only every four years and guys don’t get this all the time and blah blah blah…), while simultaneously arguing that contextual differences around male and female bodies mean we can’t measure objectification from an even playing field, because there isn’t one.

I wanted to share some feedback I got from all directions, because I think the complexities of this issue are many and there’s plenty of stereotype to go around.

From A, who felt generally in agreement, but took issue with my characterization of how much easier men have it in the media landscape:

“Young men are constantly bombarded with images of what a “sexy” and “successful” man looks like. Society has also conflated sexiness and career/financial success. Those who are good looking are successful in their careers and vice versa. This ultimately stems from a standard of beauty put on young men by fashion outlets (Abercrombie), TV (Don Draper), politics (Aaron Shock), and sports (Tom Brady). Just like it is somewhat easier for you wonderful, smart women to be successful despite certain gender stereotypes there are men who struggle against the “watch sports, let women cook, go into finance drive fancy cars blah blah blah” measure of success that is put upon up.”
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From C., who felt that the athleticism displayed by world class athletes (male and female) makes for healthier idolization than, say, regular old hot people:
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“The world cup is THE global sporting event. The men who compete in it are incredibly talented athletes and have the bodies to match. It’s not just that they have great thighs but that they are strong and coordinated. Also, part of what has been great about those lists is how diverse they are compared to the average “hot celebrity” compilation…But let’s flip it. Say there’s a women’s sporting event big enough that lists are being made about hottest female athletes (I’m sure this happened in the Olympics). I’m actually not upset about a slideshow that draws attention to the bodies of female athletes who are strong and capable…I don’t think you need to defend men from pictures of world-class male athletes any more than you need to defend women from pictures of world-class female athletes. These are people in the best shape of their lives who have worked really hard to get that way, and that’s a thing to admire.”

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C’s point is very interesting, and in general I’m much more in favor of fawning over what bodies can do vs. how they look, even though those two things are very related. I used to have this amazing coffee table book of photography of athletes with lineups of champions illustrating the range of physiques that can accomplish crazy feats:

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If that’s what we were talking about when we talk about “athletic physiques” then I’m all for it, because it truly prioritizes achievement over aesthetics, but that’s almost never what we’re talking about. Just as we don’t celebrate the physiques of weightlifting women in mainstream media, we don’t celebrate the 114lb, 5’2″ physiques of male marathoners either. They may be champions, but they don’t fit the “hot body” model we’ve come to expect.

Even when we talk athletic excellence, we are usually limiting our body worship to bodies that fit within the cutout of what we are already told is attractive. It doesn’t matter that Taylor Townsend is a tennis star, her body doesn’t look the way we think “fit” looks, and her sponsorship options already reflect how “confusing” people find that gap.

All of that is to say, soccer players are an interesting test case because they are athletically gifted and also perfect fits for what we have already deemed the “ideal physique.” I’m not sure we can separate those things and say that our adulation is about fitness rather than abdominal definition. And if it is about abdominal definition, then we have to own that, and we have to defend that, which personally, I’m not prepared to do.

Related Post: But what if you don’t look like a runner?

Related Post: How Title IX changed my life

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The 17 Hottest World Cup Players with Freckles*

*This is not a list of sexy soccer players.

Half of you are very disappointed that there is not actually a gallery of freckled soccer stars, and the other half of you read the title and were like… is she for real? No, I am not for real.

This week’s Role/Reboot piece is on the ubiquitous World Cup Hot List… hottest thighs, hottest abs, hottest butts, etc. etc. etc. and man I’ve been getting feedback in all kinds of directions. Half of you seem to think I’m going too hard on the lists, and that there’s nothing wrong with appreciating some chiseled pectorals in list format on Buzzfeed. The other half of you think I’ve overstated what I believe are the differences in how we view male and female bodies, and that men actually have it much harder than I’m giving them credit for. Can’t win ‘em all.

Later this week, with permission, I’ll post some of the feedback, but in the meantime I would like to draw a distinction between two questions that I think are markedly different:

1. Is it, in general, okay to lust after (and document your lust for) attractive bodies, male or female? In other words, is there anything wrong with appreciating the human form in the first place? This is a HUGE question, with many pieces (short answer: no, long answer: it matters a lot what you do with that attraction and how you express it), that I’m not really prepared to answer right now. Similarly, the individual case of being attracted to someone is a lot less interesting to me than the macro trends on how we, collectively, as a society, treat bodies and beauty.

2. If you object to “Hottest Asses of the U.S. Women’s Ski Team” on the pages of Esquire or Vice because you find it reductive, demeaning, hypersexualizing, or reinforcing of problematic views about bodies, is it hypocritical to not object to the “Hottest Thighs of the Australian Men’s Soccer Team”? I think it is. I don’t think I can claim the first is an issue and the second isn’t, even though I absolutly believe that the media coverage of female bodies is markedly different than male bodies. The problem is not the same, but it is related.

Anyway, more an all of that and much talk of “shit buckets” of body coverage here:

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Related Post: I  love the Olympics

Related Post: On Olympian Holley Mangold vs. Conan

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Even Skinny Girls Deserve Compassion

As you may or may not know, I began yoga teacher training a few weeks ago. This is part of an ongoing “plan” (I wish it were as organized as a plan) to diversify my income, learn more about yoga, give back to the yoga community I love so dearly, and get way more OkCupid responses (because seriously, dudes go nuts for yoga teachers… they think we’re super bendy.)

It was only on the first day of training that I realized, OMG, I’m going to be teaching beginners…. Somewhere along the line I had let this small fact slip away. I had envisioned myself designing killer sequences and deep, thought-provoking themes. I didn’t so much visualize the part where I’d be teaching people for whom “square hips” doesn’t mean anything, for whom “mountain pose” and “chair pose” are new concepts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super pumped for the challenge, it’s just a different challenge than the one I’d been planning for in my head.

Part of training is observing other teachers as they teach the beginner sequence. In one such observation, I became supremely focused on one Barbie-like girl in the back who, in full make-up, was seriously struggling. Instead of feeling compassion or observing the teacher’s directions aimed at helping her, I felt a little thrill. It’s embarrassing, but sometimes when I see thin people struggle with exercise, I gloat.

As a non-thin person, I routinely face assumptions about my exercise habits that are patently false, and I’m regularly reminded about how little we can tell about someone’s fitness and wellness just by looking. So, this week for Role/Reboot, I wrote about my own struggle to be a little less judgmental, a little compassionate, and give the same benefit of the doubt to the skinnies as I expect given to to me.

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Related Post: Obesity is a problem, so is body-shaming.

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“If you’re feeling attacked, it probably means you’re having your privilege challenged”

If you haven’t spent much time with the Batty Mamzelle essay “This is what I mean when I say ‘White Feminist'”, you should.  If it hasn’t entered the canon of intersectional third wave feminist texts, it’ll be inducted any day now. It is brilliant.

As a feminist who is white, I do not want to be a White Feminist, which Cate defines as follows:

“White feminism” does not mean every white woman, everywhere, who happens to identify as feminist. It also doesn’t mean that every “white feminist” identifies as white. I see “white feminism” as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. “White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality. 

For visual learners, she included this amazing Venn diagram, and I’ve added my notes with yellow arrows:

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I know I have flirted the line with White Feminism. I was in White Feminism territory when I posted on Facebook about blackface. I was in White Feminism territory when I failed to consider how a movement like SlutWalk may not work for women of color whose experience with hypersexualization (see #FastTailedGirls) is different than mine. And I know that, when my White Feminism tendencies come out (and if you grew up with White Feminism, were taught White Feminism, and read White Feminism, it can be hella hard to retrain yourself), I am epically embarrassed to be called out. When you are working hard to be the best ally you can be and you take a misstep (even a well-meaning one), it’s hard not to go straight for a defensive crouch. But you don’t know me. I’m not like that. I’m on your side. 

But that’s a selfish, unhelpful response. It’s not about you (me). As Cate writes “It can be very off-putting to feel attacked for a transgression that you know yourself not to be guilty of. But in the context of social justice and movement building, if you’re feeling attacked, it probably means you’re having your privilege challenged, not that you are a bad person.” All you can do is apologize, step back, analyze, and learn from it.

In a related story this week, Jeff Yang wrote for the Wall Street Journal about the selection of Ashley Wagner for the Olympic Team (4th place in the Nationals) over Mirai Nagasu (3rd). As he points out in his follow-up piece, we will likely never know for sure whether race, specifically, played a role in the selection, but it’s not unreasonable to ask the question:

My WSJ piece is focused on the idea of the “golden girl” — a term first applied to one of Olympic skating’s early superstars, Sonja Henie, and which has survived since then through the years as an appellation for a particular type of skater: Blonde, ivory-skinned, willowy, slender. The term “golden girl” is akin to the term “great white hope”: It is a racialized archetype that infuriates people when you actually call it out as a racialized archetype.

Remember guys, if you’re feeling defensive, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

Related Post: Pax Dickerson didn’t notice male privilege

Related Post: David Roberts at Grist explains White Liberal Dude Privilege

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S(Tuesday) Scraps 109


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1. HOOPS: Bill Simmons, who I generally love, gets rightfully reamed by college basketball player Wayne Washington when Simmons refers to his dreads as “stinky.”

2. AUTHORS: Curtis Sittenfeld (Prep, American Wife) gets interviewed by The Rumpus about her new book, Sisterland.

3. NEW MEXICO: The New Yorker‘s Rachel Syme, writes eloquently about the hometown she shares with Walter White.

4. CELEB: I really dig this advice from Olivie Wilde in Glamour, or rather, this advice from her ghostwriter. Regardless, I’m into it.

5. MOMS: My favorite, Roxane Gay, interviews her mother for The Hairpin about how she feels about her mothering decisions, 30 years later. Should we all be so lucky as to have these conversations.

6. SPORTS: What does it say about you as a parent when you push your daughter down the path of soccer, dance, or chess? Apparently a lot?

Related Post: Sunday 108: George Saunders, OITNB, Ill-Doctrine, etc.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Amanda Palmer = awesome, millennials worry, email mapping!

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The Problems with “Strong is the New Skinny”

The line from that George Saunders piece I posted on Monday that’s really sticking with me is “Err on the side of kindness.” It seems so obvious, as far as life philosophies go, but the simplicity of it is blowing my mind. What a world that would be, eh, if we all agreed to live by that code?

Though he didn’t articulate it as such, I’m confident that Saunders would agree that kindness towards oneself is a key facet of this MO. My new piece for Role/Reboot this week is about body image and wellness, but I hope that the backdrop of self-love and self-kindness is apparent.

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Related Post: Critiquing the Dove Real Beauty Campaign

Related Post: 1 in 4 women think they’re too fat to exercise

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“White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome”

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

My favorite thing I’ve read this week is the apology letter from David Roberts at Grist after he referred to a former Anthony Weiner intern as a “hobag” on Twitter. Read the whole thing, please, but highlights:

“This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!”

“The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.”

Man, it’s so fucking smart. When we talk about privilege, we are often referring to the very tangible–wealth, stuff–or the slightly less tangible–sense of security, education. What Roberts is pointing out is that the underlying girders of privilege are not external, but rather deeply personal, “the conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator’s of one’s own meanings.”

I'm sure this is a really tough time, Bob

I’m sure this is a really tough time, Bob

What do we mean by that? Take the case of currently beleaguered mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner’s been accused by nine women of sexual harassment and is clearly struggling with the discrepancy between how he viewed his actions (“behavior that would have been tolerated in the past”) and how they are perceived by others (inappropriate, illegal, gross.) See Stephen Colbert’s excellent “Oppressed White Male Alert.”

Similarly, Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper is trying to recover from an ugly incident in which, agitated, he yelled at a Kenny Chesney concert, “I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro” [Note: Cooper is white]. His response to the appalled and upset reactions of his fans and teammates suggest that, like Filner, he’s having trouble reconciling what he knows about himself and how his actions are being received. “I’m hoping we can rally around this and my teammates will be behind me and I’ll get through this,” he said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry,” he added. He does not consider himself to be racist and this may be the first time in his life where his internal monologue about who Riley Cooper is is being questioned by the public. He found the edge of his privilege, and it is apparently at a gate outside a Kenny Chesney show.

As Roberts said, “When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not ‘intend’ it.”

Related Post: Do I have privilege? You bet.

Related Post: There is a hierarchy of feminist privilege

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Is This How Riots Happen?

hawksChicago won the Stanley Cup last night. If I hadn’t been watching the game (pure accident, as the concert I was supposed to be at got rained out), I would have known of the victory by the non-stop honking/shouting/whooping/chest-thumping racket that continued well into the middle of the night a few stories below my  bedroom window.

But I did watch, and n the way home, right after the final buzzer, the red line was packed with Hawks fans dancing and flapping their “wings” and congratulating each other. When the doors parted, an older gentleman (portly, bespectacled, balding) couldn’t get past the wall of teenagers. After shouting “Back off! Back the fuck off!” they let him through onto the platform, but started chanting “Bruins Fan!” at him as he exited. From there, he turned on the crowd, pointed finger shoving into Blackhawk-jerseyed chests and starting yelling at them. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his tirade went like this,

I AM a Hawks fan, I’m just not insane like you lunatics! There’s more to the world than hockey, you know? Read a book every once in a while. Pay attention to the world. Care about something other than sports for fuck’s sake! It’s just a game!”

The crowd, for obvious reasons, didn’t like his message or his tone. As the doors closed, he kept shouting through the glass, his adult-to-bad-child tsk-tsk finger-point reflected back in dozens of college students flipping him the bird. “Go read a book or something!” I was just glad that the opposing forces were separated by panes of something solid. The fury on both sides seemed so primal (and inebriated) and it was easy to imagine a drunk kid taking a swing at him and chaos erupting. So this is how riots start, I thought.

The truth is, while I would have claimed to not “get” hockey, last night was probably more combined minutes of hockey-watching than I’ve done in the last ten years, and it was actually super fun. We conveniently had a dad on hand who was thrilled to explain some of the nuance, and as many people have unsuccessfully tried to persuade me over the years, it is an extremely graceful game if you look past the brawling.

The part I still don’t understand (about all sports, not just hockey) is the whole hog, blood-runs-insert-color-here investment that people have in the records of their teams. I get the momentary excitement, the palpable energy during the game itself, feeling like if you hold your breath maybe the shot will go where you’re willing it to go, like your viewership affects the outcome. I can cheer with the best of them, hoot and holler, etc, but when the game ends, win or lose, it occupies no further brain space. I don’t dwell on it, and neither the joy of victory nor the agony of defeat linger past the last buzzer. That was fun, I think, moving on!

So Sports People, help me out here; I’m clearly missing something, a vein that millions of people worldwide are willing and able to tap into. To my mind, most of these Hawks aren’t from Chicago, and it’s not like they picked us for any special reason. They’re contracted to wear this particular jersey vs. that particular jersey, so where does the loyalty come from? What is it about a team or the community around the team that allows the outcome of a game (because the man on the train was right, it is just a game) to determine your mood for the next week?

Related Post: The best things I read in 2012 about sports.

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Sunday Scraps 104

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1. MUSIC: The sign-language interpreter steals the show at this Wu-Tang performance (Gawker). 

2. DATING: If you’re familiar with the sniveling “Nice Guys” who are very upset that their “niceness” doesn’t make girls want to sleep with them, you might enjoy this bit of satire from Insert Literary Reference.

3. HEALTH: Why is a colonoscopy 26x more expensive in the U.S. than in Canada? It’s complicated, says Mother Jones. 

4. BRO: What exactly is a bro? Venn diagrams to the rescue! And who is at the middle of it all? Lochte, of course.

5. VOWS: I thought nothing would top the wolf wedding announcement, but I was wrong.

6. BOOKS: Publisher’s Weekly explains some big name books in pie-chart form.

Related Post: Sunday 102 – Founding father pin-ups, rich kids of Instagram, authors annotating their first editions.

Related Post: Sunday 101 – Soldier portraits, cartoons about depression, Rihanna’s hairdresser

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