athletes · body image

Why don’t journalists tell us the weights of female athletes?

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Commenting on NBC’s images of male and female snowboarders Josh Levin writes,

You can probably spot the difference. Kotsenburg is 20 years old, lives in Park City, stands 5-foot-10, and weighs 165 pounds. Anderson is 23, calls South Lake Tahoe home, is 5-foot-3, and weighs … well, it’s unclear how much she weighs.

NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey confirms that these on-screen bios comes from the network’s graphics department, and not from a world feed. If the network did want to provide comprehensive physiological statistics, it could easily get them from the official Sochi 2014 website, which provides heights and weights for male and female Olympians. On the Sochi site, Kotsenburg is again listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, while Anderson is 5-foot-3 and 119 pounds. For some reason, NBC doesn’t want you to know that last stat.

NBC Doesn’t Want Us to Know How Much Female Snowboarders Weigh

But it’s not just snowboarding. Read How Much Does Maria Sharapova Weigh? And does the public have the right to know?

To be clear, tennis and snowboarding aren’t sports with weight categories. Really there’s no reason for us to know the weights of the women or the men involved. So why do we care?

Partly I think we want to compare the specs of the elite athletes to our own measurements. We’re also fascinated with the different sizes and shapes top athletes come in. See Tracy’s post The Shape of an Athlete.I’m fascinated both by self selection and by the way our physical pursuits mold our shapes.  While I’m happy for me to carry extra muscle that slows me down running and riding up hills, elite athletes go to some interesting extremes in pursuit of top performance. See Weight Training Only for my discussion of body composition and compromise.
So then why the difference? Men tend to be much more matter of fact about their weight. I laugh watching my sons and my partner weigh and measure themselves and compare. My partner has been outstripped in height by both of our sons, now 16 and soon 18, for a few years but recently teen athlete son (rugby, football, basketball) overtook him in weight too. It was a proud moment for him. So odd to hear someone cheer that they weigh more. Can you imagine similar weighing and comparing between mothers and daughters? I can’t. The subject is still too fraught.
I think we react differently to women’s weights, even for larger athletic women. See Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question. I’ve occasionally shared my weight with people and gotten shocked looks. As if I had just broken some great social taboo, which I suppose, I did. It felt like mentioning one’s income which I’ve also been known to do. Beyond “fat” and “chubby” we even lack a vocabulary for talking about larger women’s bodies. See Fat or big: What’s in a name? Women, more than men, are more likely to feel themselves to be defined by their weight. Very few women are able to view that number on the scale neutrally. And athletes too suffer from eating disorders, sometimes sacrificing performance for a smaller number on the scale.So the effects of reporting women’s weights are different than that of sharing men’s. Since the information about Olympic athletes is there and people want to know, I can see why journalists share it. I’m torn. I don’t like the differential treatment. I want to live in a world where weight is just one fact among many about a person, athlete or not.

6 thoughts on “Why don’t journalists tell us the weights of female athletes?

  1. Great article! I too noticed this during the Olympics and gritted my teeth at the double standard. Once again, society caters to the myth that scale weight tells us something about the person. Worse yet, it implies a negative “something” when it comes to women, and a positive for men.

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    1. But remember – it’s only positive for men if they’re not fat. Fat men, especially if they are not athletes, are judged quite harshly. That said, look at Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford. Think a woman as overweight in appearance as Rob Ford could ever get elected as a mayor or anything else? Not likely.

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  2. This is an interesting topic. I’ll apply it to another sport I know.

    I follow the NBA, in which players’ weights are just another stat. Where I live, the WNBA team was shut down before I moved to town, so I never got into it and I don’t know how available professional female players’ weights are, to make a comparison. But I can comment on how NBA fans talk about the male player weights. We talk about body conditioning, in general, especially comparing a player from season to season and sometimes comparing two players of similar size. We use weight as one aspect of body size when evaluating the match-ups of two players on opposing teams who play the same position. Especially for the “big men” positions, body weight can be very important for evaluating how two players will match up against each other. But… I’ve never followed basketball for girls beyond elementary school grades, so I don’t know how these things play out for women.

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