Looking To The Olympics For A Lesson In Body Diversity

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Artist Wendy Fox has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a project that would highlight the body diversity of female athletes at the Rio Olympics. She’s hoping to raise $37,339 ($50,000 in Australian dollars; Fox is based in Melbourne) by Aug. 25 to create a book and poster of the Rio gold medalists.

Chicago Tribune

After the 2012 Olympic Games in London, artist Wendy Fox embarked on a project to show the stunning body diversity among female gold medalists.

“There’s way too much emphasis on what the female body looks like,” she told me at the time. “I want this project to celebrate what the female body can do.”

She collected the heights, weights and ages of every female gold medalist from 2012 (data available on the Olympics website) and illustrated a giant poster of all 276 of them, from shortest (Chinese gymnast Deng Linlin) to tallest (American basketball player Sylvia Fowles, who used to play for the Chicago Sky).

She wants to do the same for Rio.

“Athletes are role models,” she told me. “Athletes come in vastly different shapes and sizes, as do regular women.”
But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from looking at magazine covers.

“Coverage for women’s sports does increase significantly during the Olympics, however it tends to limit its coverage to the more feminine, glamorous, let’s-appeal-to-men sports like beach volleyball,” she said. “Objectifying women by giving coverage preference to the athletes that most resemble models is detracting from the athletic accomplishments, and it treats women as if they are entertainment.”

And it only tells a fraction of the story, the same fraction we already see and hear in non-Olympics media coverage.

“That is, pretty much in this order, we should be lean and toned, small-waisted, have ample breasts, long legs and be of reasonable height but not too tall,” Fox said. “Even plus-size models are pretty much larger versions of the same overall shape.”

This week, Fox launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her Rio project. She’s hoping to raise $37,339 ($50,000 in Australian dollars; Fox is based in Melbourne) by Aug. 25 to create a book and poster of the Rio gold medalists.

“When I was watching the London Olympics, I was really amazed by the physical diversity of the female athlete,” Fox says in the Kickstarter video. “And I realized, you know, I’m watching the healthiest, fiercest, fastest women in the world. And they don’t have bodies that adhere to the model ideal. They have bodies that adhere to athleticism.”

Fox hopes to illustrate, once again, that strong and healthy can look hundreds of different ways.

“Watching women embracing and working with what they have, rather than thinking their bodies have to fit a culturally prescribed type, is a hugely positive message to send,” she said.

And we have to do our part to embrace more than one ideal.

Nineteen-year-old gymnast Simone Biles, predicted to win the Olympic all-around title in Rio, told New York Magazine she was teased for her muscular frame as a tween. “I always hid it with a jacket,” she said. “I was always wearing a jacket.”

But lately …

“People’s reactions have changed over the past few years,” the article states, “which Biles credits to an appreciation of stronger bodies.”

“Now people are like, ‘Do you lift? Are you a gymnast? You have a good body,’ ” Biles said. “People just appreciate it more, and we’re just a little bit more confident as we get older.”

Maybe that appreciation, and confidence, will trickle into the nonathlete world too, and we’ll eventually accept that women’s bodies don’t all have to be corrected and coaxed into a single type.

Fox’s project is a promising start.

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