Role Models and the Female Athlete

A few weeks ago the following video caught my attention.

The gist of this 9min video is- vulnerable young girls are being bombarded by the media with unhealthy, unrealistic projections of beauty.

Everyone’s a Player

Issues centered around beauty and self-esteem are something everyone needs to be prepared to deal with whether you coach girls, have a daughter, are a girl or just generally like girls and want to date one someday. It’s important to start this conversation by understanding this is an issue that affects, and is affected by everyone.

Women of Pop Culture

I was thirteen in 1999 when Britney Spear’s Baby One More Time topped the Billboard Charts and the Spice Girls carried significant cultural clout. I didn’t own a TV and only listened to CBC Radio- it didn’t matter. I remember looking at a picture of Britney Spears with my heart sinking and thinking oh god, I do not look like that.

The lack of resemblance is uncanny.

I can guarantee that is a feeling every single person has had at some time. I don’t believe things have gotten any better or any worse. I mean- check out the reality of my highschool pals and I vs. the kids of 90210- our supposed hollywood ‘peers’.

Just to clarify- these are the kids from 90210. That is NOT me on the top left.

. “]Just to clarify- We were dressing up for the Lord of the Rings premiere. One of the most fun times EVER. And yes- we had bikini’s on underneath the snowsuits and capes.

The media has always- and will always offer a mixed bag of tricks when it comes to it’s portrayals of women. We can’t control it and we certainly can’t shield girls from it. So what do we do?

What Really Matters

The real people girls interact with on a daily basis have the greatest impact in shaping who they will become.

No matter how prevalent pop culture is- it will never be as powerful or have a greater impact as real life examples girls see on a daily basis.

Take a minute to reflect on who’s examples have really had a meaningful impact on your life. For me it was Sara Nielson and Elizabeth Doering who were awesome, strong athletic women in their twenties who came back after University to coach with the Yukon Ski Team. There was Tiny Brobby another supportive female coach of mine who also happened to be a spastic wax tech. The importance of female role models never fades or looses it’s value. You need them all of your life. Megan Cummings shows me every day how to be awesome person with 2 kids in your 30’s, Jan Downing shows me how to enjoy life and be a wonderful mom and human being at 50.

The Role Models Responsibility
Whether you realize it or not- you’re a role model for someone. As such it’s important to take a minute to think about the message you are sending. What are your core values? What would you like young girls to see and learn from you?

For me it comes down to two things;

1-    Never be afraid to try anything- even if you look stupid doing it.The number one thing that breaks my heart is when girls are too scared or shy to try something for fear of failure or looking stupid. It is such a damaging mentality that closes so many doors so quickly. Having said that, it’s not always easy to walk this walk. I end up doing stuff that scares me and makes me look stupid a lot. But I believe once you stop caring about what you look like- you loose yourself to the moment. Once you stop focusing on the optics and start focusing on the content- the people around you do too.

Constantly doing foolish things is the name of my game.

2-    It’s not about being pretty. Our value is much, much greater than that. Confidence and self-esteem need to be built upon foundations other than physical attributes. When I was born my mother famously said “Well- she’s not pretty but at least she’ll develop an interesting personality.” I was a giant growing up with a big nose and gapped teeth [ok- that still describes me]. I was never going to fit into the mold pop culture provided. Instead I focused on values such as intelligence, strength, wit and kindness. If you focus on developing and being proud of your amazing qualities outside of looks- by the time you hit your mid twenties and realize you’re absolutely beautiful the way you are- you also happen to have a full arsenal of badass qualities to go along with it.

EVERYONE has a Responsibility

So what role do coaches, fathers, friends and boyfriends play in all of this?

#1- Give a girls something to value about herself beyond what she looks like. This is why sport is so key to building healthy self-esteem in females. It gives girls a place to shine for qualities independent of looks.

#2- Think about what you say.

The oldest compliment to a girl is “you look beautiful”. What does that say about our values, about what you see in her that merits a complement? Surely there’s more fantastic things about her than her looks? There’s nothing wrong with telling a girl she’s beautiful but mix it up- try complementing her on other things you value about her that aren’t dependant on her physical attributes.

The conclusion of Pavlina’s ramblings.

I didn’t like that video I posted at the beginning of this blog. I felt like it was depressing and fear mongering. I think the power to lead young people [boys and girls] in a positive direction is in our hands everyday. I think of all the wonderful women breaking trail in their lives just ahead of me- I think of what a great influence they’ve had in my life- and I think, maybe, just maybe we can all make a difference.

Share the link if you know someone who could benefit from this message.

Thank one of your everyday role models for making a positive difference in your life.


4 Comments on “Role Models and the Female Athlete

  1. Well said Pav! Good words to take to heart and act upon.

    Steve Howard

  2. Hi Pav,

    GREAT post! I stumbled upon it via Facebook and I am so glad I did; thanks for writing a very inspiring post.


  3. I really liked your blog, but the video was maddening to watch. Wish there was a video to properly complement this blog with more about the importance of keeping girls in sports and the power of good coaching/ mentoring. I would rather see my players covered in dirt, than lip gloss.
    Tracy Bell
    Softball coach, mite level (9-10 yrs)

  4. You pointed out some great things here. One really needs to recognize what images are being presented to our youth.

    Nice work!

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