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:
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:
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.
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