Bitches Brew: Ability Over Aesthetics

Aug 20, 2014
by Amanda Batty  
bitches brew column - title image


As a female athlete, I often find myself under differing amounts of scrutiny from many outlets on varying topics, but one of the most prevalent topics is physical appearance.

Some weeks back after placing well at a US national race, I was reading the comments on a recap article about the results here on Pinkbike and came across a comment about my legs from another Pinkbike member. Granted, in the accompanying photo of the podium, I look like a fat kid whose shorts are hiked way too far in the awkward direction; it was an awkward picture, to say the least. But what really caught me off guard was the fact that this male commenter felt the need to comment on my legs in the first place. Yes, they looked AWFUL. Yes, I looked fat. But to publicly point it out? Is that really necessary? After an angry, emotional rant to a friend and a few beers, I calmly sat down at my computer and patiently explained to this gentleman why I love my chubby little stems. It ended fairly well.

What stuck with me from this experience, however, was that a large portion of the public, as well as members of the action sports industry truly believe that female athletes are all supposed to look like the models displayed in the magazines and ads. This false advertisement and hype not only creates perception issues for the general public, but it creates an economy within the action sports industry that punishes and devalues women who prioritize their skills and athletic ability over their physical appearance and 'look'. Many companies and sponsors will outsource product shoots and advertising campaigns and tradeshow appearances to professional models while the very athletes who test and use their products get 'budget cuts' and reduced incentive payouts, despite being the people doing the work... It creates a false public belief that athletes are these beautiful people who always look perfect and instills in young women a lie about the definition of success. Some of the strongest female athletes I have ever met are women who don't give a damn about how they look; they're usually more concerned with progressing their sports and pushing the performance line than smudging their mascara. These women are the girls going huge, 'chicking' the boys and changing perspectives and ideas about female athleticism, yet they don't get advertising campaigns devoted to their competitive prowess or total athletic domination. They don't receive accolades for building outreach programs for other women and girls and they don't get press for pushing boundaries, because someone has already given that ad space to a pretty face who 'looks' athletic.

Now, I clearly understand the issue from a marketing standpoint: a brand needs to look attractive to trigger an aspirational response within a potential consumer, which usually leads to a purchase, aka the "buy this because this product makes you pretty" campaign. This campaign is why models are paid to stand around in the first place. I get it. Believe me. But my problem is that this is required in an industry built around skill and progression. Male athletes are endorsed because they are particularly talented or skilled in a certain discipline or area, or because they're personable and make the sport fun, or because they do crazy shit. That's great. But female athletes get press for being pretty. If you have skills, great! If not? Well, that's okay... You can still be a professional athlete! We'll just make sure you don't race or film or do any sort of event where raw skill is required. A pretty face is literally a golden ticket to success in our appearance-obsessed world, and sadly, the bike industry is no exception. In a world of followers, likes, and comments, an athlete's value is based on how much 'influence' they have across social media platforms, and it can be easy to get caught up in the waves of lustful adoration from pervy lurkers. It's easy to confuse attention for respect and followers for influence; it can happen before we even know what's going on.

Anyone with enough motivation can be 'fit'. Anyone can train to look good. Anyone can wake up, hit the gym, eat right and get a great body. Anyone can wear makeup and have their hair done for some cute photos. How do I know this? Because I've done it. It's a whole lot easier than you'd think. Sexy bodies reflect commitment to fitness, but anyone can just go out and exercise -- training for and excelling at a sport requires dedication to a long-term vision of success, and a strong body often looks much different than a 'sexy' body. It's not easy to consistently push back what we want now for what we want most. It's not easy to go to bed early and wake up early and mix jobs and training and riding and skills work and travel and family. But it's worth it because it goes far deeper than what any of us 'look like' on the surface. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of athletes and girls to build a realistic concept of 'strong' and 'successful' that isn't based on appearance.

It no longer surprises me when people make comments about the attractiveness of female athletes as related to their value ("yeah, but she's HOT!"), because that's what we've allowed our industry to become. We objectifiy female riders and athletes every time we fail to speak up during a conversation or debate. We demean our female athletes every time there's an ad, an Instagram post or a video of bouncing boobs that casts the women of our sport in a sexual light and we stand idly by, waiting for someone else to step forward and create change.

It's the responsibility of all of us to rise above the sexual shitstorm that plagues women in sport, and that includes the female athletes. As women we need to focus on what our bodies can do, not what they look like. If we do this... If we refuse to exploit our sexuality for profit, our sponsors, our companies, our male counterparts, our industries and the public will follow suit. At the end of the day, much of the responsibility comes down to those of us in the spotlight earning our places as professional athletes. Not by having pretty faces or great bodies and using our appearance to 'get ahead', but by pushing the boundaries and limits of our sport every time we're on our bikes. We need to set an example for those coming generations about what we will and will not tolerate from our own industry, and what we will and will not do for the sake of notoriety, glossy pages or social media fame. If we truly want equality in sport, we need to behave equally and stop commercializing our sexuality. All of us have to be willing to put the work in, step outside of societal roles and start earning those equal payouts. We DO have something to prove, and that's why we're out here: to prove that we're more than a genetic lottery. That's the beauty of sport.

As a culture, as athletes, as a community and as an industry, it's high time we start paying attention to the messages we're sending to the members of our sport and the image we project to those outside. It's time to start asking ourselves what we REALLY want as a sport: athletic-looking models who capitalize on the status quo of companies looking to send the wrong message? Or women who really do throw down and have committed to the permanent health and growth of our sport? It's time to start seeing these powerful, incredible women as what they are: the building blocks of a healthy future.


31 Comments

  • 8 2
 I may have seen too little pictures of you but "statistically" you do look good and personally you do rock my boat so no need to get so anal about such a stupid comment. There are fktards out there who will criticize any girl for the kind of legs breasts nose eyebrows so please never ever react to that openly. He's probably a wanker anyway. You got quite lucky in the gene pool Smile

Now as to industry... Well there is this one truth: good looks help. Everywhere. People not avknowledging it are nr1. People with political agenda 2.Ugly people 3. Combination of both. I have no doubts that they even help the athletic sbility as a good looking person is a confident person, a confident person will have it easier to be a goid athlete. I get what you are saying but well, this sport is men dominated. We will always like good looking women, and if a good looking woman can ride better than most men, then hell, I feel energetic right NAO! Anneke Beerten, caroline Buchanan... Do they do Skills Clinics? I even grt pumped by riding with goid looking girls.
  • 7 0
 Well, I'm glad I rock your boat, WAKI... I can sleep soundly now. Wink Ha ha.

It was more about highlighting an important topic rather than 'getting anal' about anything, but it would be nice if we could give the women who have earned it more accolades for their accomplishments than criticisms for their appearance.
  • 1 2
 Ahh and btw I work often with marketing and graphics. I saw a few more pathetic things in "good looks" department than adults (I repeat "adults") getting overexcited with this video of how a photo of a girl gets retouched in photoshop. As much good as it serves for kids and teenagers, adults should just stfu. This the common reality, don't like it? Do not stick your nose out of your own one in which you yjink you deserve something
  • 4 0
 As 'adults', we are responsible for what kids see, and we're in charge of creating a healthy definition of success for those kids and teenagers, not holding some bullshit party line about how beauty and appearance are the ultimate goal and the total definition of success... Because they're not. Beauty fades, boobs sag, and without skills or self-improvement? That pretty face doesn't mean shit. We need to concentrate on encouraging ACTUAL progression of society, not some implied change because beauty standards are changing. If we promote personal development, hard work and creativity before we applaud a pretty face (aka, the genetic lottery), we take steps towards building a more successful future across all cultures. The first place we can do that is in athletics, because of the aspirational role athletes play in every society. So saying that adults should STFU and that it is the way that it is and to accept it is the bullshit, noncommittal line of someone who would rather jerk off on a keyboard than step forward and create a better world.
  • 2 1
 I am affraid that your approach to this topic is much more honest than one of people I speak of
that should STFU. Their reasons to get excited are not to good, 1.they just get super excited over any crap 2. Some people I know well who present strong anti-makeup,boobie opinions in social media have serious issues with their genetical misfortune (like raising kids in sex-neutral way) 3.most importantly: they always look for someone else to raise their kids, lately they want content in social media to take care of it.

I like your post and I agree, but that's how the stars are set in this universe and only people who want to listen will listen (I hope it is at least 80-20% rule that applies here) industry does worse things than that to sell sht.
  • 6 0
 It's disappointing you have to write this. Good article none the less, top job!
  • 6 0
 I dont give a fuck how fat or ugly someone is, if they can get sideways, they're a champ in my books.
  • 3 0
 Fuck yeah.
  • 3 0
 Thanks for the good read!
This industry is finally seeing an incredible growth of strong female athletes step up and kick sand in the face of this precieved notion of innate beauty and innate athletacism. I want to believe we, as a society, are ready to ascend beyond this crippling mentality and admire beautiful athletes for their exceptional hard work and determination as amazing humans.

"It's time to start seeing these powerful, incredible women as what they are: the building blocks of a healthy future"

Well said!
  • 1 0
 I agree, and thank you for recognizing the immense talent and power of the women in sport... That goes a LONG way towards true equality. Smile
  • 4 0
 A lady who throws down is way sexier than a barbie doll in dh gear. Hit a jump, get rowdy, that scores a 10 in my book. Too bad it's impossible to find single chicks who shred. Mtbsingles.com anyone? Haha
  • 3 0
 Amen, Mandy. Your point speaks to the gender imbalance in sports as a whole. But your specific situation is pretty sad. For the tool who made that comment, that is. I mean, do dudes also go around critiquing other dudes' legs? I can just imagine the conversation go down: "Hey bro, your kankles are hairy as f*ck. That is sooo not sexy. Do yourself a solid and take a razor to those trunks. Try the Gillette Mach 3. It's worked really well on my back. I don't get razor bumps or anything. Good luck, bro."

Sound ridiculous? Exactly. And it's no different when a guy opens their mouth and spews out equally dumb shit to women. I think your parting question is spot on, but the problem is that everyone seems to be asking the same question and griping about the inequalities rather than being proactive and doing something about it. Good for you for standing up. It's a long, uphill battle, but keep doing what you're doing. We'll get to the top eventually. Smile
  • 2 0
 You're so right! But as ridiculous as it is, the comment directed at me isn't the first and I'm damn near positive it won't be the last -- it happens on a regular, much larger basis, to where ski magazines write article about the "10 Hottest Female Shredders" or a componentry company decides to put skanky models in their product ads.

It no longer surprises me when people make comments about the attractiveness of female athletes as related to their value ("yeah, but she's HOT!"), because that's what we've allowed our industry to become. We objectifiy female riders and athletes every time we fail to speak up during a conversation. We demean our female athletes every time there's an ad, an Instagram post or a video of bouncing boobs that casts the women of our sport in a sexual light and we stand idly by, waiting for someone else to step forward and create change.

It's the responsibility of all of us to rise above the sexual shitstorm that plagues women in sport, including us female athletes. We need to focus on what our bodies can do, not what they look like. If we do this... If we refuse to exploit our sexuality for profit, our sponsors, our companies, our male counterparts, our industries and the public will follow suit. It's on all of us, however, and it has so many facets to affecting change.
  • 3 0
 You are absolutely right Amanda. I see it a lot on PinkBike, though the sexist articles were worse when Ian Hylands was posting certain photos.

I see Mike has added "(or boyfriend)" to his simile on the 2015 and a girlfriend after too many shots. That just shows he doesn't truly understand what he has written. You are right too that such an analogy is supporting rape culture.
  • 1 0
 Edit: 2015 Demo
  • 3 0
 Thank you for your words, and the support of an important issue... Many folks on the inside think that because the industry has 'gotten better' or 'seen a lot of improvement' that articles like this no longer have a place, but I tend to disagree. Thanks for seeing the issues as they are. Smile
  • 3 0
 I'm a dad raising a 14yo girl. Unfortunately, society has given me ample opportunity to point out to her just how screwed up some things are related to how people relate to women's physical appearance (not to mention expectations of social behavior that are way more restrictive than those placed on men - where assertive men are considered assertive, and assertive women are considered bitchy). It's not just that sub-culture (as appropriate a term as I can think of...) of wankers making nasty comments (not surprisingly, that dude missed the only point worth noting about your, or the other riders' legs in that picture - they were on top of a freaking podium...). It's not just the insane standards for what women are supposed to aspire to (Runner's World no longer features elite women runners on their covers - they have heavily photoshopped "fitness models" posing in running gear; don't get me started on the yoga magazines, Outside Magazine, etc.). It's also that thing that (some) girls and women do to each other.

They say that adversity is necessary to develop strength, that true resilience can only be grown in the face of hardship. Frankly, though, it seems like there's plenty of adversity out there against which young girls and women (and boys and men) can grow and develop - do we as a society have to add all that self-inflicted bullshit to the mix?
  • 1 0
 I couldn't agree more -- between the societal pressures and 'rules', the aesthetic requirements and the catty, awful bullshit, there's an awful lot to overcome to be a female athlete, and even amongst ourselves there's constant 'comparison' nonsense and useless competition instead of team building and inter-sport support for one another. It can get so overwhelming and frustrating, but that daughter of yours does have two factors on her side: you and herself. As a daughter, I'm so grateful to my dad for always telling me that the only limits I had were the ones I put on myself and to ALWAYS stand up for what I believe in; he lived it, too. And for right or wrong, he's been one of my biggest influences and the reason I'm such a fighter.

Keep kicking ass and teaching that little girl to be her best... You're amazing. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you two ever need anything. Smile
  • 2 0
 A woman doing a fat ass tabletop or whip or whatever is so much more attractive on a marketing side to me ! (But unfortunatetly there is always someone to make a comment about how she looks...)
Many of my male riding-buddies had understood your point and they make fun of the girls bying the lastest FOX leopard-skin-pinkie jersey and posting selfie on instagram.
So, women...
Let's send it, the muddier is it the better it feels !
  • 2 0
 I have a nice ass… how do I get a hold of DVO?! Some one on here may or may not attest to my ASSets Wink

While I agree that it should not be a platform of how we are judged, it is also kind of in our DNA, we are designed to be attracted to the best looking as that is who we desire to mate with, the best off spring possible. From there if it is one thing marketing experts know, it is manipulation, hell those two words should just mean the same damn thing.

Unfortunately when people run a business for the purpose of making money, they will do whatever it takes and if you won't, someone else will come in and tell the owner how they will do a better job than you, no matter how passionate you are about the industry, if they can generate more revenue, well you are SOL.

I think some of this boils down to gender roles as well, most men are intimidated by confident, strong women. Most men want to wear the pants and often are not men enough to wear pants while their counter part does as well, hahaha. Sometimes strong women just happen to wear spandex while having hams for legs bwahahahaha. JK, but I really will beat you at a indian leg wrestling.

For me personally this is a non issue, but I know that window lickers will always be window lickers, and IMO they make up the vast majority. So I understand why companies go to market the way they do, but to tie in to what east coast smorgasbord has to say, yes please be a strong role model for women, so that they can be strong and find people to connect with who are not window lickers. Our society truly does lack strong role models, men or women.
  • 2 0
 For me, as a father to an 11 year old girl, I want women who are more than a boob job and low morals as role models for my daughter. Athletes are one of the best examples of dedication, passion and determination to something more than the norm, she was stoked to meet Rachel and Manon at a recent BDS race, she has their posters up on her wall and follows the WC closely, if these kinds of women can inspire her to be something more than a reality TV sheep I will die a happy man.
  • 2 0
 As the Dad of two young daughters/athletes who both ride, YOU ROCK! You are the type of athlete and role model that I would want them to emulate as they grow. Great article!
  • 2 0
 So glad this was finally posted. Having a nice ass get you a full ride with DVO suspension while I'd have to work my ass off is beyond stupid.
  • 2 0
 Chubby legs eh? Ive seen those legs and I know they can kick the head off of just about anyone. Dont fukcs with da batts.
  • 1 0
 I love you for this.

That is all. Wink
  • 2 0
 Absolutely well said, Amanda. I can always count on you to tell it like it is. Never stop doing that — we need change.
  • 2 0
 Yes. Killing it. Just went and looked for the comment and your response. Big ole thumbs up from a thunderthigh'd skier.
Below threshold threads are hidden

Post a Comment



Copyright © 2000 - 2019. Pinkbike.com. All rights reserved.
dv65 0.021174
Mobile Version of Website