What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see a gold-medal athlete like Simone Biles? Is it her choice of leotard, her hairstyle, her makeup? Uh, I think not. This woman is so incredibly powerful, so talented. We aren’t focusing on whether she meets our standards for beauty, are we?
With the Olympics underway and so many female athletes in the spotlight, it seems like Americans just can’t resist the opportunity to analyze and criticize.
Earlier this month, USA Today published an article on “The empowering reasons why female athletes are wearing makeup during the Olympics” that highlighted everything that is right with adorning yourself with makeup:
“You can be a strong, athletic, courageous woman and you can wear lipstick,” Shannon Rowbury said. “I like being able to be all those things or try to help inspire young women to be all those things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s a form of expression, especially in track and field where my uniform is provided by my sponsor (or the USOC).”
Other athletes referred to their makeup as their “war paint,” and one chose to wear a particular lipstick shade to honor her late grandmother.
Shannon Roxbury (source: Fittish)
I’m someone who cares a great deal about her physical appearance. I understand that we live in a society that places a lot of emphasis on women’s looks, and I don’t attempt to ignore these cultural pressures. I enjoy looking polished and make it a priority…usually.
Although I relate to Olympic athletes’ choosing to wear makeup as a measure of empowerment or self-expression, there’s a serious problem with expecting this of them.
Leave it to Fox News to codify society’s basest perspectives on women. On a show called Sports Court, anchor Tamara Holder led a conversation with a couple of dopes about whether female Olympic athletes should be “sexing it up” by wearing makeup:
In case you don’t feel like subjecting yourself to the full video, let me tell you that we start with Dummy #1 insisting that the whole point of getting to the Olympics is to gain product endorsements (huh??)—ridiculous logic and a less than compelling case for wearing makeup. Then, Dummy #2 asks, “Why should I have to look at some chick’s zits?… Why not a little blush on her lips? … I’d like to see the person that wins that gold medal go up there and look beautiful.”
What the hell?
And this isn’t the first time we’re hearing about makeup at the Olympics. Back in 2014, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, NBC’s Steve Porino was discussing the talents of the female skiers when he said, “All of that while in a Lycra suit, maybe a little bit of makeup—now that is grace under pressure.” Just stop.
We’re holding these elite athletes to a standard that is completely and unbelievably inappropriate to the circumstances. There are just some times when a women’s appearance should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever, and competing in (most) Olympics sports is one of those times. With the exception of gymnastics, figure skaters, and a few other athletes where costume is part of the magic, makeup should play no role in our conversations. None.
Just like it would be ridiculous to expect a woman undertaking the superhuman act of giving birth to look polished, we shouldn’t even be thinking about an Olympic athlete’s mascara. There just have to be some spaces for women’s bodies to be functional, not perfectly crafted for the male gaze.
Thankfully, some athletes are speaking out against these pressures, like gold-medal winning gymnast Shawn Johnson:
Thinking about Serena and all of those athletes, we shouldn’t have to think about the aesthetic part of it, or how thin we are, or if we look a certain way, or putting on make-up. We should think about what we need to do to make our performance better. When you get so many comments, it does get distracting.
Shawn Johnson (photo by Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald Staff)
Sure, women certainly can wear makeup while competing for the world’s greatest athletic honors, but let’s not confuse can with should.