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Festival of science Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Beauty beats brawn
Kournikova AP
Anna Kournikova: The "acceptable face" of female sport
Women in professional sport are still judged more by their appearance than their performance, according to new research.

No matter how many tournaments the tennis player Mary Pierce wins, said Dr Precilla Choi, she will always get a much harder time from the media than sporting golden girl Anna Kournakova.

According to Dr Choi, a psychologist at Keele University, UK, this bias is having a knock on effect in society where women see exercise as a form of beauty therapy rather than something that is good for their health.

"Mary Pierce was quite vilified by the media for coming into Wimbledon looking quite muscular because she'd been working out in the gym to get stronger for her sport," Dr Choi told the BBC.

"Whereas Anna Kournikova was held up as an exemplary role model for young women tennis players. This is a woman who got knocked out very early on in the tournament but she is being held up and exalted because she conforms to the stereotypical idea of femininity."

'Too muscular'

Dr Choi said there were a number of reasons for such stereotyping:

  • men largely controlling media output;
  • women's fear of not conforming to society's expectations;
  • and the influence of sponsorship deals on women athletes.
Even female bodybuilders came under the same pressures, Dr Choi said.

"Female bodybuilders can be penalised for being too muscular. That is in effect telling women that there is only so far they can go in a sport.

"It was not so long ago that women were not allowed to run marathons, for example, because it was thought that they couldn't actually run that far."

Dr Choi said a whole cultural shift was needed to address the problem.

"Our society is all about what women look like being more important, and we need to start to change that," she told the British Association's Festival of Science in London.

"Whilst that sounds like a very big project, we can actually, each of us individually, do little things to make it better. For example, in the home, parents can encourage their girls to be as active as their boys.

In schools, children can be given equal access to sports and to equipment."

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Dr Precilla Choi
Sportswomen are expected to conform to feminine stereotypes
See also:

12 Oct 99 | Sheffield 99
22 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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