Talking about bodies…

Almost 8 years ago to the day I wrote on the blog about journalistic practice of not sharing the weights of women in competitive sports.

Then and now I can see both sides of the issues, but I hate the differential treatment.

I wrote, “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.”

Image search on Unsplash for scales and you get this creature! Not what I meant but I like it. A statue of a dragon. Photo by Alyzah K on Unsplash

The issue was raised again in this piece, FROM THE MIXED ZONE: ARE REFERENCES TO WOMEN’S BODY TYPES EVER APPROPRIATE? sent to us by a blog reader. (Thanks VN!)

Here Cindy Hirschfeld isn’t talking about weight but about discussions of the type, size, and shape of the athletes’ bodies. She begins by noting how much sports reporting has improved, focusing mostly now on athletic achievement not appearance.

But sometimes a reference to body type hits a nerve, as was the case in a recent New York Times article about Jessie Diggins’s bronze medal in the women’s individual sprint on Feb. 8. “In a sport that has so many women with massive shoulders and thighs, Diggins looks like a sprite in her racing suit, and it’s not clear exactly where she gets her power. But the power is there, as she flies up hills, and comes off climactic turns with a burst. On the downhills, she tucks low and cuts through the air,” wrote longtime sports journalist Matthew Futterman.

At least some members of the U.S. women’s squad didn’t appreciate the description and neither did head coach Matt Whitcomb. “It’s surprising to see something like that in 2022 come out in the Times,” he said when asked about it. “Because it’s a sensitive issue. And, you know, you think about where we were 20 years ago, something like that wouldn’t have even registered on anyone’s radar. And we all learn on a different day or a different year what’s acceptable—it’s an ongoing moving target. And so I’m sensitive to the people that are caught off guard, but it’s great that [Futterman] is being called out on it.”

The issue has added significance, perhaps, given Diggins’s struggle with an eating disorder in the past that she’s openly shared. It was a topic of discussion among female journalists in the Mixed Zone at the women’s 10km classic yesterday, Feb. 10, and a male colleague from FasterSkier initiated asking the U.S. athletes about it as they passed through to chat with us.

What do you think? Should we be neutral about numbers on the scale and the size and shape of athletes’ bodies, one thing upon many to comment on? Should we treat women athletes differently given the concern about eating disorders among women athletes? Or should we not look at bodies or least not talk about them? Isn’t that extra hard when it comes to people whose bodies can do such amazing thngs?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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