Just reminding you all of the absurdity out there.
Here is some stuff for you men out there to contemplate. This is what women talk about with each other often. I’m letting you in on the dialogue in hopes it brings some thoughtfulness into your life. It’s like a doorway into another’s shoes. I think they call that empathy, and even compassion. Maybe it can lead to action on your part. For my many faithful, diverse and beautiful women readers, this body image exploration is for you.
I find it odd to sexualize a sport in which most of the time you are either in giant foul weather bibs that make everyone look like they dropped a load in their pants, or you are in the same stinky clothes you have worn for days. This is a sport and lifestyle in which many haven’t taken a proper shower in over a week or have sweaty ass cracks from hard work.
I was on Instagram looking at Sailing hashtags. I have posted some below for your contemplation, but here is the typical example.
I am so happy for the youth and vitality of these women, and if they are truly sailors, even better! I wonder if they or their photographers ever pause to think of the message they are sending?
The message seems to be that Sailing is young, white, beautiful, sensual, sexy and luxurious. Strange, since most of the men I see Sailing are middle aged with dad bods and the women are generally athletic or sturdy body types who don’t mind peeing with doors open or if their hair is a rats nest from good wind. Most sailors I see are indeed white though, but that warrants another post.
When I started sailing I felt like my Scots-Irish bod, with strong legs and broad shoulders was made for this sport. My genetics come from hauling, pulling and manual labor in cold damp places. I felt proud of the fact that I can easily hoist a main or trim it in 30kts with muscles flexing and bottom heavy weight balancing.
Like most women I have body image issues. I don’t think you can’t coming from a image obsessed culture that shoves unrealistic and airbrushed expectations on you daily. I remember years ago my grandmother staring at me appraisingly and with a note of concern for a while. Finally she said with lamenting sigh, “I guess you are just never going to be petit, are you?” I remember being shocked, a little hurt, then very bemused since it was her genes that created these baroque curves. I just said, “Nah Granny, I don’t think so.”
For me, Sailing presented a needed shift in body image. A deep gratitude set in for my health and strength. I remember one man I sailed with said, “your athletic build helps you out in this sport.” Athletic build? I liked it. Prior I just got curvy a lot, usually with inappropriate eyebrow wiggles and always with an emphasis on ass and boobs. It was about time these thighs and shoulders got some props. It was nice to shift from looks to function in my own mind. However, there is also size discrimination on boats with women and a belief that smaller women can’t sail. That’s bullshit.
I have sailed with women who are five foot two and strong and brave as hell. Their size gives them an agility on the boat that is amazing. I have seen smaller women on the bow fly a kite around on a gybe in 20kt breeze like a dancer waving a flag. I’ve also seen them pull in a jib sheet and crank it under load that would make any man strain. I have watched these women standing over winches using legs and core with teeth bared like a boss. It’s primal and amazing.
One thing you learn early as a woman in sailing is you have to sail smarter, not harder. When you don’t have the same kind of braun as the male variety of humans do, you learn how to make things work for you. Where there is a will in sailing, there is always a way. We have a motto on our sailing team: girls sail smarter. Young men have to learn this as they age, because all bodies get weaker with time. Women learn ahead of the curve how to make the boat work for them.
Back to the pictures. Look, Sailing is a physical and demanding sport. I am all for celebrating people, bodies and perseverance. There are even people with disabilities who rig boats in order to enjoy wind in their sails and journeys at sea. That’s some inspiring and badass stuff right there, talk about brains and determination. The point being: there are many kinds of people sailing out there. They sail on different boats, in different ways, in different locations.
So why are we limiting our images and even most advertising to just young, white, able, wealthy, conventionally beautiful people in very little clothing and in suggestive poses? This brings me to the last and probably most important point. Most of these images are highly sexualized. It’s not what the women are wearing so much as the suggestion of their pose and stance. Many of these women are posing in ways that scream objectification. They are created for the edification of sexual desire, primarily for men. This is dangerous.
Why is it dangerous? Because objectification of women, meaning putting the value and meaning of women being objects for men’s desire is a huge part of rape culture. Rape culture? Whoa! Did I just go there you ask with defended shock. Yes, I did. This is serious stuff gentleman. If you want to be an ally and create a world with more women sailing in it, you need to wake up to rape culture. When people think of women as sexual objects it gives them permission to treat them as such. Harassment and assault are the behavioral actions of these beliefs. We are talking about that pesky bias thing again and bias can be physically dangerous, especially for women. Just look at the stats of 2 out of 4 women reporting sexual assault in their lifetime, the numbers don’t lie.
It is also emotionally and mentally damaging. When women internalize these beliefs of being an object they tend to have body image issues, and lack of confidence in their worth outside being sexy or sexual. There is a pressure to please, look a certain way, to be sexy in order to be valued. This pressure can lead to us not feeling free to be our authentic selves and can hold us back from our potential. I know I sound like a broken record here: but women are people. Very capable people at that, I think most of you men reading this know that. It’s not that people can’t be or feel sexy if they want to, but giving women room to define our own sexy or have choice in when or where or who we want to be sexy with is important. So how do you support us?
I want you to seriously take a moment and look at the below images. Look at the headings of the hashtags and ask yourself: is this relatable in any way to your life and the people you know? What are the images telling you and how do they make you feel? What do they say about women and what do they say about sailing? Is this the kind of representation you want for a sport you love? Is this the kind of imagery you want for the women and sailors in your life? What would you change or like to see? How can we all create different and more diverse and inclusive images? What images are more representative of our sport and the people out there sailing? How can we represent women in different ways that encourage them in sailing and value them for what they have to offer to the sport?
I get it, sex sells, but I think we can do better. What if ingenuity, bravery, authenticity and kindness sold? What if skills or relatable experience were the focus? What kind of a world would that be? And as always, if you are defensive or reactive in any way, what is that about? Because that’s your privilege knocking at the door and the growth edge you have in being a more open, inclusive and kind human.
Postscript 1/3/19 It seems that many trolls get upset on this post specifically. In fact, I have had the meanest messages about this post in particular and at my 2 out of 4 women reported statistic in here. I apologize, I pulled that number from my counseling masters thesis on assault which is 10 years old. The degree with a 4.0 and honors that does in fact make me an expert on women’s issues and that I base a thriving practice being a trauma therapist on. The current data from 2015 is 1 out of 4 reported. Of course, the data also shows that over 60% of assault is not reported so we could conclude my numbers still hold. However, I am one to admit when my research is off. I’m not sure if 1 out of 4 is much better, or somehow makes you assholes feel better. But since many of you have taken issue with it, here you go. Also, if you are not supportive of women get off my blog. I don’t write it for you and don’t want to hear from you. I will delete and block if you cannot be kind even in disagreement. Enjoy the images.
My favorite in the WTF?! category goes to the first image in #boatbuilding