Game, Set, Mascara

I am cautiously optimistic by the number of people who are expressing their fury at the judgement of female sportswomen purely on their appearance. An almighty furore blew up after BBC Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale celebrated Marion Bartoli’s Wimbledon win with the meditation, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”.

Bartoli Power over pretty: shame that the uniform requires knicker-flashing though.

However, when Tanya Gold at the Guardian took Inverdale to task for this display of mean-spirited idiocy, she still felt the need to add that Bartoli is in fact pretty. And therefore OK after all.

I thought the whole point was that it didn’t matter? That sportswomen are inspiring because their achievements are based on talent, discipline and rigorous training? Perhaps not, when even those defending this ideal feel that the sportswoman in question needs to be validated by prettiness.

This seems like a good place to start in rejecting the focus on sportswomen’s looks: being careful not to reinforce it by mentioning their looks ourselves.

But I would like to mention their makeup. Did anyone else notice a number of sportswomen at Wimbledon and last year’s Olympics appearing to wear makeup to compete? And didn’t this strike you as odd? I certainly wouldn’t want to wear foundation or mascara when my sporting performance is of the utmost importance: not comfortable, and I would worry about it all dripping off my face as I leapt over hurdles or flung a javelin.

And yet some did. Sabine Lisicki was definitely wearing eye makeup in her match against Bartoli.

Rhona Foulis at Progressive Women observes the habit of interviewers to ask sportswomen about their beauty regime (imagine Andy Murray’s response to that). Jessica Ennis responded to such a question:

“I always wear a bit of make-up to compete – foundation, Olay Essentials SPF30 […], eyeliner, mascara and a lip moisturiser. If I feel I look nice it’ll help my performance.”


Daily Mail article which considers Ennis’ beauty regime the only thing worth discussing.

Really? Why? Oh right: Ennis is the “face” of Olay’s Essentials range. I sense a problem here.

As Meli Pennington of Wild Beauty writes, some athletes such as US boxer Marlen Esparza have worn makeup to compete without the influence of sponsorship – though Pennington asks whether this is a kind of ‘audition’ aimed at getting sponsored. Esparza, who is now sponsored by Cover Girl, is quoted as saying, “I think if you look good you feel good, and if you feel good then you fight good.”

I wouldn’t want to reject this argument entirely (actually I do want to, but shouldn’t presume to know what goes on in people’s minds), but I would question the assumption that women need makeup in order to look good. But it does seem useful to mention here that women’s sport receives on average only 0.5% of all UK sports sponsorship. They need the money.

It is not easy to assert how much makeup sportswomen wear while competing, nor why they wear it, but this is a discussion that needs to remain in play. If we accept unquestioningly that sportswomen should make an effort to look pretty, then that assumption will continue to hold for all women, and we really don’t need that.

To finish on a lighter note, the New York Metro has conducted an amusing experiment, to show what men’s sports coverage might look like if it was photographed in the same way as women’s sports. Turns out that recognising people by their buttocks is not so easy.

For more on this see Hadley Freeman at the Guardian on sportsmen’s girlfriends, and Dodai Stewart at Jezebel on the different shapes of athleticism.

One response to “Game, Set, Mascara

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: