The sports industry loves to categorize female athletes into either “hot” or “skilled.” Every once in a while, they hit a marketing jackpot of both in one athlete, which they drunkenly fall over drooling and make it news of the year. They so easily fall back on the de facto response that “sex sells.”
But to whom exactly are we selling? I’ve never seen a man buy a Quicksilver bikini because they saw a poster of Alana Blanchard wearing one. And the last time I bought a Brazilian-cut, up-the-butt bathing suit, it was because I liked the color. But no matter whom the actual end consumer might be, over-sexed, oversimplified images of female athletes do a disservice to the next generation of female athletes.
As athletes, we’ve lost touch with what it felt like to be a teenager, with Cosmopolitan Magazine demolishing our confidence and inducing body-image psychoses. Unhealthy messages are everywhere, even in the outdoor sports industry. Why aren’t we selling images of skills and creativity to young consumers, instead? Why aren’t we selling confidence?
We know what works and we’re afraid to explore challenge. In a generation of cutesy Facebook catch phrases plastering everyone’s wall with advice on how to be better at life, we’re afraid of the most cliché advice of all: Take the road less traveled. For female athletes, this means try to do something other than sell sex. Be better than that.
The commonly traveled road is selling your beautiful physical self. Less traveled? Selling something that matters, like talent and creativity, a recipe for the most beautiful female quality of all, self-respect. For all the women out there shaping the identity of female athletes worldwide, I ask you to remember your teenage self. In an era where we get to choose our “brand,” persona and image, why not try on the masks that haven’t already been pinned on women over the years? Today, WE determine how we’re branded, how we inspire, and what stories are told.
1. Be skilled: If you can throw down (or enjoy trying to throw down) on a 55-degree face, the bike park, the skate ramp, wherever, tell people about it. Don’t be shy to share these stories. It might feel like bragging, but other women—and men—want to hear about it. It will make them reconsider what’s possible. It is bragging. But it’s the good kind. Inspire.
2. Find your own route: Let your creative brain choose the route to your destination. Being unique is sexy, but better. Make a name for your unique contribution. I moved into a tiny house and became a ski gypsy. Do you speak four different languages? Play viola? Own your own business or nonprofit? Are you a photographer, painter or artist? Whatever it is, tell people about it. We want to hear more than “she’s hot and she rips.” Focus on what you want people to know about you. Emphasize your potential and give the world an off-ramp to the destination. Destination: She’s AWESOME and she rips.
3. Practice: If you want to slay your sport, it’s going to take practice. A lot of it. In fact, so much time will be spent challenging yourself in the proverbial arena, you won’t have much time to think about being sexy or worrying about not being sexy. It’s here that you’ll truly be happy. You’ll find purpose. Challenge yourself. Overcome fears. Fail. Fail. Fail. Succeed. Live.
4. Be authentic: If you’re comfortable as a sex symbol, go for it. If not, don’t do it. Rewrite femininity to fit your life. Authenticity and self-respect are the most beautiful qualities you can own. Don’t wear a mask that suffocates the soul.
5. Remember your teenage self: Be the role model you wish you’d had as a young woman.
6. Be relatable: I’ve read it’s called the “Blemishing Effect”—for every photo, Facebook post, Tweet, or InstaMoment you share showing your awesome, perfect, action-packed, beautiful life, show us your regular, girl-next-door side. It shows honesty and reinforces that no one is perfect. Everyone needs this reminder, especially young women in our perceived perfect social media bubbles.
7. Challenge yourself: It’s easy to copy what the world thinks of as physically beautiful. Challenge yourself and get more creative. Work on you. Who are you on the phone, when they can’t see you, but can hear your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and aspirations? Be that girl. We love you.