Fitspo and the Olympics


With one of my superstar athletes, softball player SB!

I was struck by two newspaper articles I read in the last two days.  I hope with this post mostly to share these articles, and that most of this blog’s readers will read them.  I do not want to provide a lot of my own commentary. I will explain in due course.

The first was published in the New York Times: “For those keeping score, American women dominated in Rio.” The second was shared with me by a friend in the UK, who sent me a Manchester Guardian piece: “Why has women’s fitness become a beauty contest?”

The Times article I am sharing not so much as a proud American* but as a fan of women’s sports and the power of sport to promote health in all its forms, mind, body and spirit.  The medal count for the USA Women’s Team would have seen it rank third in the overall standings (61)  if it had been its own country. The article explores some of the phenomena behind that remarkable performance, among which are the structural supports that empower large numbers of women in the USA to play sport from childhood on through elite sport.  As one of the commentators notes, however, the American dominance largely reflects the relative lack of such structural support throughout much of the rest of  the world: Donna Lopiano, a former executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, states, “We have the largest base of athletic development. Our women are going to dominate, not only because of their legal rights but because women in other parts of the world are discriminated against.”


With another superstar, volleyball player BR.

The Guardian article makes for powerful reading.  This opinion piece also reflects on the positive power of women’s sport, as it quotes the American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony, who wrote in 1896:  “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”

However, Anna Kessel, the author of the piece, spends most of the article exploring the connections between the Olympics we just saw and the rising #Fitspo movement, a social media phenomenon potentially reducing much of sport to a new body image obsession, one which, typically, disproportionately affects women.  She bemoans the many Olympic moments she saw where commentary about a woman’s sporting performance seemed overshadowed by her appearance or the outfit she wore.

Some of the musings I heard or read during the Olympic fortnight reminded me of Sepp Blatter’s infamous comment about what would make women’s soccer more interesting — ‘tighter shorts’.

As I wrote earlier, that’s the ‘share’. Two articles, well worth reading.  Check them out if you can, and let us know here what you think. Check out the #Fitspo movement on Twitter or Instagram and let us know what you think.

Writing for this blog, I always hope to stimulate a virtual conversation.  As I type these last few words, I am, of course, engaged in a written monologue–in front of my laptop, alone.  And I am painfully aware of my limitations as a straight man in commenting on these issues. When I read these articles, I mostly find myself nodding and, essentially, trying to listen to what the authors have to say.

I would love to hear what you have to say, as well.

*Up North, they are duly proud as well: a colleague from Canada reminds me that that country brought in 22 medals, 16 of which were earned by women.

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

3 Responses to Fitspo and the Olympics

  1. François Belle-Isle says:

    Very interesting article! North of the border, Canada won a total of 22 medals, 16 of which were won by female athletes!

    • sportingjim says:

      bravo! i think a similar ethic of female empowerment exists throughout N America!

    • sportingjim says:

      by the way i brought in that stat into the revised blog post — important info, thanks for sharing

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