I do a lot of Googling for my job in Development, especially for our Twitter and Facebook accounts. I’m always on the lookout for inspirational pictures or quotes from women in sports to inspire our staff, supporters, and girls. When I find a great quote or picture from a powerful female athlete it motivates me to do my best work every day.
And, inevitably, when I see the top listed search results it also exposes the barrage of negative messages girls and women experience daily in regards to their bodies and respect for female athletics. I can imagine one of our Girls in the Game participants starting a project for school about female athletes by typing the simple phrase “female athletes” into a search engine. Here’s a sample of what she finds:
“The 50 Hottest Female Trainers”
“Beautiful Female Athletes 2”
“Top 50 Hottest Female Athletes”
“18 Ways to Lose Weight Without Going On A Diet”
“100 Most Famous Hotties in Sports”
And the worst offender I found so far: “Sporty Girls, Sexy Babe, Fit Teens…”
Can you see this girl? Picture her, sitting at the computer, the thoughts running through her head, the comparisons she makes between herself and the images on the screen, and how she feels about herself now. Pretty disturbing isn’t it? Is this really what girls are finding when they search for “female athletes”? Of course, ll these posts include revealing pictures of photo shopped women just to drive the point home that appearance is more important than athletic ability. It’s even more difficult to find coverage of women of color in sports beyond just Venus or Serena Williams (no disrespect meant to the queens of the tennis court).
It breaks my heart to think of our girls wanting to learn more about their role models in sports and finding these images instead. It is also no secret that the media places a lot of value on a woman’s appearance. Female athletes are some of the few strong women depicted in the media with the potential to be examples of healthy body image, but instead of focusing on the athlete, her abilities, or her health, the media creates lists of “hotties”.
I can’t even blame Google or Pinterest for their search results. After all, the algorithms used in these search engines look at what sites past searchers have clicked on when using the same key words. Meaning that the reason so many vulgar sites show up under “female athletes” is because that is exactly what most people are looking for when they Google this phrase.
There isn’t a simple, easy solution to the problem of how our society sees women and “female athletes”, but we can teach our girls to know better by building a strong foundation of self-worth and self-esteem. And that’s exactly what Girls in the Game does every day. Our curriculum goes beyond learning how to kick a soccer ball; Girls in the Game uses sports as a vehicle to teach girls about strength, confidence, and grit. We give them great role models in their coaches and put them in the path of strong female leaders in business through our Leader to Leader interviews. We teach them that health is more than weight or appearance; instead it is a lifestyle that is reflected in every aspect of their lives.
We might not be able to single-handedly protect girls and women from the messages bombarding them on a daily basis, but we can empower girls to be strong, confident, and determined to combat the acceptance of these messages. Can you see her? Sitting at the computer seeing the word, “hottie”, and this time knowing that the woman staring back at her from the screen is not defined by such a narrow, vapid term. Girls in the Game is committed to reprogramming what defines a woman’s worth, one girl at a time, one day at a time. We serve the whole girl for her whole life.