Tuesday, August 7, 2012

When Looks Overshadow Your Greatest Accomplishment

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
In the sport of women's gymnastics, Gabby Douglas has been the first U.S. gymnast to win gold both in the team and all-around finals. It is such a remarkable achievement for a 16 year old girl. But to my dismay Gabby has been receiving as much or more media coverage for her appearance as for her success. Fans and media have been focussing on her hair. Tweets and news blogs written about Gabby's hair have been popping up all over the internet. 

It got me thinking, why does a woman's appearance usually overshadow her greatest accomplishment? 
I don't know where this is coming from. What's wrong with my hair? I'm like, I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bold or short, it doesn't matter about (my) hair.
Gabby Douglas' mom also weighs in on the hair controversy:

It's apparent that in a society of supermodels, pageant queens and glamorous actresses, beauty usually trumps achievement. In this new world of twitter, where someone's opinion is subject to become newsworthy, why must female athletes like Gabby endure constant media coverage regarding her appearance? She's an Olympic champion! Not only is this happening in sports, it's everywhere. You see it in politics, the media and especially in Hollywood.

I spoke with Anita Finlay, author of "Dirty Words On Clean Skin," a book that tackles sexist bias in society, who was willing to shed some light on the issue. Anita explains that we focus on the negative and the most diminishing qualities about what a woman brings to the table and that women get three times more media coverage on their physical appearance than their male counterparts.

Anita Finlay says:
When we put a woman in the public eye or a girl, there's a sense that she somehow needs to hold the banner up for the entire gender and we feel very comfortable criticizing her on every part of her physical and personal and professional presentation. 
As long as people keep focussing on the most sensationalized news out there, the media will keep giving it to us. I asked her, what can the media do to improve the gender bias out there, so ultimately women like Gabby can receive better news coverage.
If we are not celebrating what an athlete, what a politician, what a business leader, what someone has actually achieved, how are you supposed to know if the media isn't covering it.
The only way that it's going to change I think is from the ground up, I think with people like yourself doing a different kind of reporting and shedding a lot of sunlight on this issue. 
Progress will only come about with awareness. We must get involved with the debate and we must give each other positive support. A person's achievements will not be the focus until we understand that it doesn't matter what gender they are or what skin color they have.

Since news about Gabby's hair broke, the outcry of support from fans and the media has taken over.

Progress shall prevail.

Listen to the complete interview with author Anita Finlay:

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