Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Annika and the sexification of female athletes

Annika Sorenstam's recent retirement announcement has created a lot of press--all of it favorable that I have seen. And some of the articles have a particular focus: how Annika did not sell her sex appeal to gain fame and fortune.
It's a good angle. There are a few problems, of course. First, the implication is that Sorenstam didn't have the sex appeal to sell in the first place. In other words, because she just isn't as pretty as say her good friend Natalie Gulbis (the comparison made in this article in the Orlando Sentinel) she had to rely on hard work and excellent skills. Well indeed she did work hard and she is an excellent golfer. But the woman is by no means homely. I happen to find her quite sexy. But because the media rely on and help create a fairly narrow standard of beauty (in and outside of sports) the "ugly" girls are the good players and the pretty girls and just pretty girls. Note that this doesn't hurt the less than perfect female athletes; there is the Kournikova curse as well. The pretty girls are not seen as serious athletes (somewhat helped by the fact that many seem to be taking off their clothes in magazines and on calendars every time you turn around). The above article notes that Gulbis has only one title to her credit.
Also, this article suggests that Sorenstam's lack of attention is something that she has had to resign herself to:
For even as she won tournament after tournament, only to watch cameras stalk others of lesser stature, she never once made a show of disappointment. She had a legitimate gripe, being unappreciated, yet never griped. Staying with what she did well, she just sighed and won.
It seems to ring a little false. Like newly retired Justine Henin (also not considered a sex symbol)Sorenstam never seemed the type to desire a whole lot of attention anyway. But also methinks the media doth protest too much. Who was it, after all, that was stalking these lesser players? Even the Sentinel as they talk about how "ugly" the sexualization of female athletes has been includes in its online edition a 24-picture slide show of all the sexy female athletes.
In the end, the writers are all saying the same thing: Annika Sorenstam is a great golfer; she will be missed; the game will not be the same without her; it's a shame there aren't more athletes like her. And all this true. And that's a good thing.


Diane said...

The part about Sorenstam's "legitimate gripe" made me think of the time that Justin Gimelstob wrote about how horrible it must be for those poor sweaty WTA players to have ATP players' glamorous girlfriends show up in the locker room area and outshine them. He honestly believed that they even noticed, let alone cared.

anonymous said...

Hopefully, Annika's departure will mean more air time is devoted to the ascendancy of Lorena Ochoa, another consummate professional. I'm tired of watching golf and seeing video of Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer when they're 10-12 shots out of the lead.

Anonymous said...

For this lesbian there's a definite difference between women athletes that are good-looking and women athletes that are "sexy."

"Sexy" means loaded down with makeup and jewelry, dressed to impress rather than for sport, and blatantly heterosexual. Them, I can do without!