What does a female athlete look like?
Recently at the gym we were having a discussion about how often this question is asked. We also talked about the fact that every article defining this always has a photo of an athletes body and regardless of what the build is, if we don’t fit that mold we still end up feeling inadequate. Don’t get me wrong, those photos of body positivity and self love are IMPORTANT. But after reading as many articles as I could find, I kept came to the same conclusion:
We are still talking about how a female athlete’s body looks.
The definition of an athlete is this: a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. Now I want you to read that sentence and tell me where it says what her body looks like. If you want to go even further, "proficient" means "competent" or "skilled". Let’s dig in further and define athleticism: physical qualities that are characteristic of athletes, such as strength, fitness, and agility. Nope, still no mention of body type, muscle definition, size or any other physical attribute.
When we talk about what a female athlete looks like, this is what we are hoping to find represented: diversity; a wide variety of body types, races and ages. Women with many differences who still daily kick some serious ass wherever they're working out at. In my research, every article I found always had a photo of different body types saying this is what a female athlete looks like.
Here’s the other thing about those definitions. They are nouns, NOT adjectives. A female's body type is described using adjectives of the noun that she is. An athlete. It is not what she looks like that makes her an athlete. It is what she does and who she is that makes her an athlete.
A female athlete is just that. Someone who is female and an athlete. Someone who shows up to the gym, track, trail, field or whatever as many damn times as they can in a week. Every week. Someone who gives it all that they can every time they show up. Someone who makes sacrifices for the sake of their sport. Someone who is constantly trying to become better and better, even if that means a short while or a long while. A female athlete is someone who puts in the work for the sake of themselves and the sake of the sport.
For far too long we have been concerned with whether or not it’s a muscular girl or curvy girl or thin girl or thick girl or on and on and on the comparisons go. The articles only talk about how to look like an athlete whether through diet, muscle building, etc. We need to start focusing on the simple fact that it’s really a female working her ass off doing what she does - to the best of her abilities.
To me, THIS is what a female athlete IS.
Recently I went to a competition which changed my perspective forever about how a female athlete should be perceived. There were female athletes of every body type, of every age, of every muscle build wearing every type of outfit you could possibly imagine. One of the pivotal moments for me was when I realized not one person gave any thought to what these women looked like as competitors. Even before they stepped into their section, they were viewed as athletes who were here to compete. When the horn blast no one was looking at their build. They were looking at how much weight was going up, what their numbers were, if they hit a PR, if their form was on point. This is not only what others should be thinking about, but what we should be thinking about. Never had I been around so many different body types where the women cared more about their sport than they did about how they were physically perceived. To me, this single moment freed so many years of trying to fit into a certain mold. Even moreso I realized a mold didn’t even need to exist.
When I asked some of the women from the photo shoot what their favorite thing was about being a female athlete I got two responses: most had never been referred to as an athlete and almost all of them had never been asked this question.
We are women.
We are strong.
We are athletes.
That is what matters.