Perceived Shame of Women’s Weight in Sports

By Jubilee Lopez

Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak

Asking a woman about her age or weight is perceived to be risky business, but in the world of athletics these numbers are simply statistics, right?  Yet on both a professional and collegiate level, the weight of female athletes is treated differently than that of male athletes.

When athletes are introduced during the Olympics, covered by NBC, the mens on-screen profile includes their name, age, hometown, height, and weight. But when women are introduced for the same events, their profile includes the same information except for one noticeable omission: their weight.

Basic statistics, including weight, for athletes of both genders competing in the Winter Olympics are available online only in athlete profiles on the official Olympic website.

In an article for Slate magazine, John Levin boldly states, “By treating men and women differently, NBC is sending a dubious message: that even the fittest women on the planet should be insecure about their bodies.”

Similar to professional sports, collegiate athletic associations and media regularly treat female athletes weights differently than males.

On University of Oregon guard Joseph Young’s basketball profile, his weight is listed as 184.4 pounds. However, on the same website, the weight of Chrishae Rowe, one of the Duck’s female guards, is not included in her profile.

The situation raises the question: If the weight of an athlete is significant enough to be include for male athletes, and known for both genders, why is it being broadcast for only one?

The result of the inconsistency is the message that these female athletes have some reason to hide their weight.

Though this issue may seem trivial, it contributes to a larger and more serious problem. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Diseases (ANAD), in the United States approximately 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder).

Maria Sharapova looking fit at Wimbledon. (Photo: Justin Smith, Flickr)

The ANAD also reports that in females who are “elite” athletes there are notably higher rates of eating disorders: 20 percent compared to 9 percent in the regular female group. In a survey done by Eating for Life, a website dedicated to the education of eating disorders at the college level, 88.2 percent of collegiate female athletes reported that they were overweight and wanted to lose weight.

This September, Ben Rothenberg, a contributing writer to the New York Times, wrote in Slate magazine about the presentation of women’s weight in athletics through the lens of weight in tennis.

He noticed that Maria Sharapova was listed as 6-foot 2-inches on her Women’s Tennis Association profile, and supposedly weighed only 130 pounds. This proportion would make her BMI (body mass index) 16.68, which according to the New York Times Health Guide, falls into the category of those considered “to be at risk for health problems related to anorexia” because their BMI is under 17.5.

Clearly, Maria Sharapova is a healthy and fit athlete, but surprisingly enough, according to the research done by Rothenberg, she is just one of 110 professional female tennis players with BMI’s under 17.5, according to their WTA profiles.

If these athletes are lying about their weight, as Rothenberg’s research suggests, why do they feel the need to, even when we can see they are heavier, and healthier, than the numbers would lead you to believe?

Cultural taboos about weight have lead to the increase of eating disorders and a generation of girls aspiring to be thin. The unequal treatment of women athletes about their weight seems to be the perpetuation of simply not talking about a subject that assumed to be “touchy” for women. This assumption is correct for some, but is wrongly assumed that men do not feel the same way: as determined by college health surveys, at least 40 percent of men exercise to lose weight.

Athletes in all sports and of both genders could stand up and lead the movement for the public presentation of realistic weight of healthy people, but to do so the issue would need to be treated equally for both sexes.

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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