Beyond the Game: Defining the Female Athlete
An integral part of society, sport has transcended the playing field and become a metaphor of strength, power and social hierarchy. Games, particularly at the Olympic and professional level, are embedded with larger social and political contexts which define the role of race and gender in the athlete’s country.
At the heart of modern discussions of sport has been the disparate treatment of minorities however, until recently, the treatment of women in sports has been lost in the jumble of racial debates. Subjected to decreased pay, little media coverage and lack of funding, female athletes have found themselves situated somewhere between being labeled as mannish lesbians if they compete to their fullest ability and sell outs if they use their sexuality to garner sponsorships. Increasingly, female athletes are trying to walk a fine line between what has been deemed unfeminine muscularity and upholding hegemonic ideals of feminine beauty. Rather than demanding that media attention be focused solely on their athletic performance, female athletes almost apologetically agree to glamorous photo shoots that pit them in compromising positions in order to dispel rumors of their homosexuality.
My long-term project, “Beyond the Game: Defining the Female Athlete,” seeks to combat the stereotypes surrounding female athleticism by empowering the athlete to unabashedly present herself to the world as she wants to be seen. Each athlete was photographed during training or competition and then again in an intimate portrait session where she made the rules. As a photographer, I did not assist in wardrobe choices or poses as I wanted to put all of the power in the hands of the athlete. The athletes also had a hand in choosing which portrait they felt best captured their personhood.
After completing the two photographic sessions, the two photographs were juxtaposed and the athlete was asked a series of probing questions such as: what differences she saw in the two images, which photograph she felt best captured her, why she posed in the way she did and what influenced her clothing choices for the portrait. Each interview was voice recorded with the intention of turning the project into a book. For many athletes, the project has also been a sounding board for other issues surrounding women’s sports such as harassment, disparate treatment and even sexual abuse.