Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Didn't Dream of Becoming a Supermodel...

This past Saturday Marion Bartoli won the Ladies' Singles Championship at Wimbledon. Sadly some of the shine of this accomplishment was tarnished by comments BBC presenter John Inverdale made. I suspect he was trying to complement the grit and determination Bartoli demonstrated throughout the championship, but in the process he made these sexist comments about her appearance.

"Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?".

In many ways his comments reflect the reality that in women's tennis (and I'm sure many other sports) looks matter. Anna Kournikova never won a WTA singles title, yet according to Wikipedia "at the peak of her fame [2001-03], fans looking for images of Kournikova made her name one of the most common search strings on Google Search." Stunning looks will help you get in the headlines, even if your on court results don't match they hype. This article on the Bleacher Report website discusses the Bartoli comments and does a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy perpetuated by the WTA itself.

But this reality is no excuse for the initial comments. If it wasn't bad enough that an official BBC presenter felt free to criticise a player's looks, the twitter universe was even more cruel. This Daily Mail article does a good job of describing Inverdale's offense (even as it panders to shallow sensuality on it's sidebar) and the Twitter firestorm.

ESPN in the name of gender equality has created the website, Appropriately, they have a good article criticising the sexism of Inverdale and Twitter's comments. The irony, however, is that this story breaks the same week that ESPN the Magazine publishes its "Body Issue" full of nude pictures of athletes. Talk about speaking out both sides of your mouth!

The crazy thing in all this, is that Bartoli does not weigh 300 pounds or have missing teeth. She's a superb athlete who just WON WIMBLEDON!!!!! The standards of beauty and expectations placed upon young girls and women can be crushing. It's not enough to perform at an incredibly high level and be the best in the world at what you do, you must apparently also meet a beauty quotient at the same time. There's probably a bunch of articles on this issue out there, but a friend shared this one with me that I thought was worthwhile.

I don't follow women's tennis all that closely, so I don't really know much else about Bartoli, but I admire her response to this issue. She definitely takes the high road and demonstrates healthy priorities!
"It doesn't matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.’’

This is also the same week in which a Dustin Hoffman interview touching on the topic of beauty has gone viral. In the interview he chokes back tears as he describes arriving at the realisation that he had passed up knowing many wonderful women because they had not met the standards of beauty he'd learned to prioritise.

As one blessed to be the father of little girl, this series of events reminds me how important it is that I reinforce her value for all facets of her life and personality. I love her because she's my daughter, not because she meets certain benchmarks I, or anyone else, have for her. I happen to think she's beautiful and she'll continue to hear that from me often. However I'm more concerned about raising a daughter with beautiful character than a beautiful smile. I'm intentional to compliment her good behaviour, her learning, her compassion, and her love for God.

I believe this is consistent with God's view of humanity. In 1 Peter 3:3-5 the apostle writes to Christian women,
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."
Since I'm pretty sure it will mostly be guys visiting this site, let me say that we have a responsibility to reinforce God's values to the women in our lives. We shouldn't expect our sisters to take this instruction to heart as long as we're evaluating them on the basis of "elaborate hairstyles, gold jewelry or fine clothes." In fact, we encourage them to ignore God's priorities.

Sure, God created us as sexual beings who are visually stimulated, but we're still rational beings who need to learn to appreciate women as complete persons. While the world wants to accept or dismiss women based upon a 2 second analysis of "hot or not", these women need Christian men to affirm acceptance and value that runs much deeper than their skin.

Paul was encouraging this attitude in his apprentice Timothy when he told him that as he worked with a church he was to "treat the older women as mothers and the younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." (1 Tim 5:2) He wasn't forbidding Timothy from marrying a physically attractive woman, but he was warning him to firstly care for all the women he encountered as family members. He wasn't to deny beauty, but he was to value the heart more.

For God so loved the world... not the rich, or the beautiful, or the black, or the white, or the talented.... May we represent Him faithfully as we do the same.