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B.J. Epstein

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Objectifying Women: The Latest Olympic Sport

Posted: 10/07/2012 00:00

Skimpy outfits, made-up faces, smoothly waxed bodies. These are some of the images that come into my head when I think of the Olympics.

I'm the first to admit that I know very little about athletics in general and professional athletics on the level of the Olympics in particular, and I'm certainly not sporty in any way myself (unless fast typing or incessant talking count as new sports). So perhaps I'm going about it all wrong when I look at athletes, especially female ones, and wonder why their bodies are so hairless and why their leotards and sports bras seem to barely cover their flesh.

But actually, I don't think I'm the only one. If you ask people what Olympic events they like to watch and why, there's often a smirk and a reference to the sexy women playing beach volleyball in bikinis or the flexible ladies spreading their strong thighs on the balance beam.

So I think I can be excused for worrying that the Olympics, and other sporting events, have become yet another way for women to be objectified.

Why do female gymnasts often seem to have a thick layer of make-up on while male gymnasts don't? Both groups of gymnasts are performing incredibly difficult feats of strength and prowess; are women simply expected to look glamorous (if indeed wearing make-up actually makes one glamorous) at all times, even when sweating and pushing their bodies to the limit?

And why do female runners wear tighter, shorter shorts that show their every curve than male runners, who may wear skin-tight shorts sometimes but are also seen in looser, airier outfits? If the reason has to do with air resistance and speed, then presumably men would demand those slinky outfits too. When Stella McCartney unveiled her clothing line for Team Britain, I at first mistook track-and-field star Jessica Ennis for an underwear model rather than an athlete, so scanty was her clothing. While I obviously have nothing against nipples, some of the female athletes' sports bras are so thin and/or sheer that much more is visible than I expect some of those women would like; why should their bodies, as fit and in shape as they are, distract from the actual sport at hand?

And what's with the absent body hair? Surely gymnasts and other athletes have better things to do with their time and energy in the run-up to the Olympics than to shave or wax every last inch of their bodies. I understand that in some sports, there are good reasons for full-body waxing, for both male and female athletes. But again, then, why is it that the women are noticeably barer than the men? And why do you never see an errant hair, even when the cameras zoom in on those spread thighs or raised arms or smiling lips?

Supposedly the Olympics are about impressive athletic accomplishments, with community spirit and patriotism close behind as key aspects of the Games. But I do find it worrying how even in a competition like this, the women are still put on display for their appearances rather than for their exploits. Maybe objectifying women should be named a new sport; if so, it's a game that anyone can easily play.

 

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