Normally the phrase “beauty pageant” and the word “triathlon” live in two separate spheres. One is controversial for its portrayal of the stereotypical feminine image and the other is about endurance and strength and peeing in your wetsuit, things not typically viewed as very feminine.
Ah, but the winter issue of Triathlon Life magazine, published by USA Triathlon, included a Q&A with Andrea Robertson – an accomplished triathlete and the reigning Mrs. America.
Her platform (and almost all beauty pageant winners have a platform) is about encouraging girls and women to stay healthy. She promotes fitness and the triathlon lifestyle which she said is rewarding at any level of competition and at any distance.
OK, I agree with her there.
Then comes her closing remarks:
“I think that in the sports world many women and girls have the feeling that they have to suppress their femininity to be a successful athlete. I think it is fantastic to set a personal record on the race course or have a personal best mile split and then go home and throw on a dress and heels and celebrate being a woman.”
It brings up that topic femininity and sport and the debate of whether the two are mutually exclusive or can ever truly co-exist.
First, to critique her statement: Historically women athletes have been required to play up their femininity, not tone it down. In order to be accepted in the male world of sports, women had to look and act like women. It helped alleviate fears of sexual identity issues and helped to minimize the validity of women playing sports. Women’s sports advocates rallied against the feminized athlete image for women, because of all the label represented.
But sometimes we forget our history or don’t understand where the movement has brought us. And while some women would throw on shorts and sneakers and join up with the guys for a long run without checking in the mirror first, there are other women who aren’t as comfortable with that. They are the women who may want to participate but don’t exactly feel the tom-boy groove, even if it’s as superficial as a matter of style.
It remains a debate – what does a female athlete look like? Does she need to look like a guy? Can she look like a girl and still just be basic and non-frilly? Can she not care a lick about what she looks like? Can she also be a fashion diva and still be taken seriously?
There should be room for all – those who want to go home and throw on the dress and heels and those that want to go home and put on sweat pants. And all of them should be considered athletes, if that’s how they chose to define themselves.