Strong can be sexy, too

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Zara_dressy AFP Zara Phillips.

London – I read this week that having a “strong, athletic body” is a “problem” for a young woman. Apparently, you cannot wear “dressy-up clothes” if you happen to have “powerful thighs”.

An Olympic medal is all well and good but you will look “lumpy and bumpy” in anything vaguely fashionable, so better stick to the baggy tracksuit bottoms, love.

The woman in question was a member of Team GB at what cyclist Victoria Pendleton called a “Games for the girls” just three months ago.

It was Zara Phillips, still arguably the Queen’s grand-daughter first and sportswoman second – despite what she has achieved on a horse – but a successful athlete, nevertheless.

The pictures of Phillips were certainly unflattering – primarily, I suspect, because she does not give a hoot what she looks like unless it wins her a few extra marks in competition – but it was the message that was more concerning.

It came across loud and clear: sporty is not attractive. Nobody is going to fancy you for being faster, higher or stronger – unless you look good in “dressy-up clothes”. What a lot of damaging, dangerous drivel.

Is it any wonder, then, that 48 per cent of girls surveyed by the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough said that getting sweaty is not feminine?

If athletic is not attractive, presumably it’s much better to sit at home watching vacuous, made-up dolly birds on reality TV while developing an unhealthy relationship with carbohydrates owing to the pressure to be skinny? Of course it is not. Go out and get muddy or bop about at an aerobics class.

I would point to examples such as Jessica Ennis and Keri-Anne Payne, who have graced billboards and the covers of glossy magazines, to prove that sporty can be attractive, but the point is much wider than that.

We are following a perilous path if we continue to evaluate our sportswomen in terms of the way they look and not what they have achieved.

The word ‘femininity’, even in the rare instances it is applied to sport, still conjures up images of a delicate gymnast or a waif-like tennis player. But what about women who compete in disciplines that require power and body mass for them to succeed?

Why are they still not seen as feminine, womanly or girlie? Surely it is the gold medal hanging around their neck that makes them beautiful, not how they might look in a slinky evening dress.

Having a ‘strong, athletic body’ might mean you make different choices about what to wear when you get dressed up, but it is certainly not a ‘problem’.

Quite the opposite, in fact: it is something to be celebrated and to strive towards. I told a white lie earlier when I said I just read those hurtful words.

It was not a passive experience; I recoiled at them. And then I did what I normally do when I feel angry: I went for a run.

Those problematic thighs come in handy now and again, thank you very much.

Follow Laura Williamson on Twitter @laura_mail – Daily Mail


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