Female Athletes Judged By Sex Appeal

L O N D O N, Sept. 13, 2000 -- Women in sports are judged more by their looks than their athletic ability, a British psychologist said on Tuesday.

Tennis stars Mary Pierce and Anna Kournikova are talented tennis players but Kournikova, who is judged to be more feminine than the sportier Pierce, is a more acceptable athlete, according to Priscilla Choi, of Keele University.

“In this year’s Wimbledon [tennis championship] Anna Kournikova was hailed as one of the best role models for women’s tennis and this is a woman who isn’t as good as the Williams sisters or Mary Pierce,” she told the British Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

Flex Appeal and Sex Appeal

Although Kournikova was defeated in the third round of the championship and Venus Williams won the title by defeating her sister Serena in the historic semifinal, Kournikova was the media darling of the tournament.

“Women in sports are still being valued more for what they look like than their sports performance and this is reflected in recreational exercise,” she said.

“It is the more feminine athletes who also get more sponsorships.”

A survey Choi conducted of newspapers, women’s journals and health magazines showed that the looks and the personal lives of female sports stars dominated media coverage and there was little mention of their achievements.

Choi added that society’s emphasis on gender and femininity have hampered women athletes and has also spilled into recreational sport.

“Exercise for women is about looking beautiful. They are doing it to look good, not for health benefits or to improve their heart rate,” Choi explained.

Encouraging Girls

“This is damaging to women,” she said.

Fewer women than men take up an exercise and those that do often do not continue because of the emphasis on looking good and their goals are unrealistic.

“There should be more focus on women being empowered by physical exercise than trying to look better,” she added.

Choi called for genuine equality in sports at all levels. She also urged parents to encourage their daughters, as well as their sons, to exercise and to participate in sports.

“It’s about choice. If a woman wants to be a bodybuilder she should be able to do it without worrying whether she is feminine enough or not. Women who want to take part in physical exericse should be able to do it without worrrying what they look like,” she added.