Sex And The Female Athlete

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Sex And The Female Athlete

In light of a recent article posted on Freeskier.com featuring the "Ten Hottest Women In Freeskiing," I'm compelled to address an issue that has been discussed time and time again.  Last year around this time, the Bleacher Report posted an article on the 25 Hottest Female Winter Sports athletes (in which I was included) which prompted me to write me to write my own article on the 25 Hottest Male Winter Sport Athletes.  As entertaining as it was to write this article and as enjoyable as it was to look up photos of attractive men on the internet for a few hours, I really wasn't targeting the root of the problem.  I was taking my frustration out (albeit in a humorous way) on men, who are deserving of attention for their athletic accolades, not their physical appearance.  And therein lies the problem.  Female athletes should be acknowledged for their success in their athletic pursuits, not for how "hot" they are.

I'm guilty myself of falling into the trap of using my sexuality to gain exposure.  As a 17 year old girl (at the time of the photo shoot, not of the publication) I was asked to be a part of Freeskier's "Women of Freeskiing" issue.  The magazine came out in the fall of 2004, I believe it was the 3rd annual issue, and I had just turned 18.  The previous winter I landed on the podium of the US Freeskiing Open in Vail, CO and followed it up with a 4th place finish in Whistler at the World Ski Invitational (WSI).  Back then, I was known for having "man-sized air" as one article noted, and I burst onto the scene with so much motivation and enthusiasm for what would lie ahead.  Little did I know that my first chance to be in a ski publication would have more to do with my good looks than my skiing talent.  I posed in a bubble bath.  A bubble bath. And I don't even like baths!  At the time, I thought it was great.  I actually really enjoyed the photo shoot--I love sports but I've always loved being a girl too, I love to get dressed up and I'm really not shy in front of the camera--but my 17 year-old self didn't realize what I was allowing to perpetuate.  Thank heaven the internet wasn't as prevalent back then, or when you google "Jen Hudak" today, an image of me sitting in a bubble bath would be the first image to come up.

The Real Problem

That is the real problem.  These sexy images of female athletes live on forever and can actually do the athlete disservice.   The more attention that is paid to a woman's looks, the less attention gets paid to the woman herself, her accomplishments and her athletic achievements. She just becomes another piece of eye-candy.  You see that with Danica Patrick right now!  Danica consistently gets criticized for having bought her way into NASCAR for her marketability (ahem, hotness) and not for her driving ability.  The fact of the matter is, that woman is fast behind the wheel of a car.  (You can read more on my assessment of Danica Patrick here).  But because of how much she has allowed her appearance to be exploited, people actually lose sight of how talented she is.

For example, recently Elena Hight became the first woman to land a double in the halfpipe on a snowboard (and only one of 3 people, male and female alike, to do that particular double) and subsequently this summer she posed in ESPN's Body Issue.  ESPN usually does a terrific job at showing off athlete's bodies in their unique sizes & shapes and displaying the strength of the women through the photos, so I understand Elena agreeing to do the shoot.  Elena is an amazing woman, athlete, and spirit- she cares greatly about health and fitness as you can see from her website and blog, but I worry about the effect of these photos.  Elena's accomplishments on her snowboard may get lost in the shuffle because of the images that ESPN released.  But how much control is given to the athletes during these shoots? What kind of artistic direction, guidelines and limitations should be set?  It can get really frustrating as a female athlete to put thousands of hours into your craft, and not get deserved exposure for it.  At a certain point, it feels that these opportunities are the only way we can share what we do!

So  Who's Responsible?

It is hard to pinpoint where to place the blame.  Is it the media's fault for covering women in this way, or is it the fault of the men who want to read these articles over other articles pertaining to women's athletics, or is it the women themselves who are to blame?  When a specific photo shoot is in order (like the one I did in 2004), I would say the women that partake have some responsibility in it, but in this case, it seems only Freeskier is to blame.  This issue has been debated before, but this time around it has been different.  I've seen men engaging in the conversation, men who are just as frustrated about this kind of exploitation as women. That takes a different tone.  Perhaps the biggest issue with this most recent list is the fact that it was posted from Freeskier.  Freeskier's focus should be on the "skiing."  There are plenty of other publications out there whose soul focus is on attractive women: FHM and Maxim to mention a few, so perhaps we can leave the objectification to them.

So where do we go from here?  Freeskiing is still fairly young in its roots but it does have an aging audience.  I've been doing this sport professionally for over a decade now which means that the guys who were 17 when I was 17 are now 27 year old men.  Perhaps they would be interested in seeing some skiing out of these women who are acclaimed to be the "hottest" things in freeskiing.  I know the women are up for it, they're living it and doing it every day.  Maybe we don't have front flips off of 100+ foot cliffs, but 60' ain't too bad, is it Rachael Burks?

photo by Blake Jorgenson

Perhaps we don't have triples on jumps, but we've got girls doing doubles (ahem, Lisa Zimmerman, Jamie Crane-Mauzy, Tatum Monod and others...).

Lisa, making the Nine Queens jump her own!

And maybe we haven't gotten the dub 12 in the pipe yet, but 1080s are pretty cool, right, Brita Sigourney, Anna Drew and Roz G? (Oh, and maybe me too [insert blushy face]...)

Riding my favorite pipe at Park City!

What these ladies do on the hill is more than most men in the world can do and that deserves some attention.

(Now, just for curiosity's sake... go ahead and Google images for Danica Patrick, Kristi Leskinen, and Lindsey Vonn. Now google Jimmie Johnson, Tom Wallsich and Ted Ligety.  The images that come up are a little different aren't they?)

Don't Let Your Dreams Define You


 

“Don’t run from your monsters because I hear they can heal you.” Jayson Haws

The last 3 months have been the most challenging few months of my life.  Without rehashing the details, but still informing new readers, I’ll catch you up.  On January 10th I sustained a severe knee injury, a season ending and career threatening injury, and that same day, my friend, greatest idol and rival sustained a life ending injury.  The following weeks and months were relentless.  I endured surgery on my knee as numerous friends and teammates also sustained season ending knee injuries.  Another friend was caught in an avalanche that took 3 lives, hers being spared because of a life saving airbag backpack.  My father has continued to battle the aftermaths of a non-optional stem-cell transplant needed to cure him of leukemia.  And my mother continues to bear the stress of our entire family, while being my father’s primary caretaker.  I should be broken down, unable to get out of bed, certainly not able to crack a smile.  I was for a while, but I am no longer.

When life gets this hard, we often collapse.  But sometimes it is within that collapse that we experience our greatest growth.   I hit rock bottom around the beginning of February.  I began questioning my path, what my goals and intentions were for this life, if the risks were worth taking.  At first I was extremely overwhelmed, too many thoughts of the past and fears for the future were bogging me down.  But then I had a realization about the importance of staying present. (I wrote about that here.) After living with the intention of staying present, I have begun to see some serious improvements in my well-being.  My life hasn’t dramatically turned around but I feel more emotionally stable and happier overall.

By focusing on this, I was able to resign myself to the present moment, to let it be.  I stopped keeping track of time, I stopped placing a timeline on my healing process, I stopped having expectations of where I should be.  I began to accept my circumstances any given day. Living by the motto: where I am, is where I am supposed to be.  I started making the best choices in every moment to encourage healing; I work as hard as I can when things feel great, and I back off when things don’t feel good.  And now, I am flowing with the tides; I am no longer fighting the current.

But there was still a part of me, deep inside, that wasn’t ready to completely let go.  The part of me that brought me great success in skiing, the competitor, my ego, it wasn’t ready to surrender- until yesterday. Friday morning, mid-workout, I had another epiphany.  One that led me to this thought: Don’t let your dreams define you.  Believe in your dreams, chase your dreams, but remember that YOU ARE NOT your dreams.   My competitive spirit was afraid to let go, because of the fear of not reaching my biggest goal: Olympic GOLD.  This is something that I have aspired toward for my entire life.  I always saw myself as an Olympic gold medalist, before my sport was even an Olympic event.   For a while, namely before my sport got added to the Olympic schedule, I wasn’t afraid to shoot for that dream.  There was a buffer there, something that I could always blame my “failure” on.  Hey, if my sport isn’t in the Olympics then it’s not my fault if I don’t go…  My mindset changed, or at least, my emotions changed when my sport got into the Games, and after this injury I began to feel even more doubt.  This “Fear of Failure” demon has been haunting my dreams, day and night.

It seems that people with big dreams all suffer through this in some way or another.   We attach ourselves so thoroughly to our dreams that the idea of not reaching them makes us sick to our stomachs.  Our sense-of-self feels threatened, our self-worth devalued, because we are unsure what we have to offer if we don’t reach that ultimate goal.  What we are missing, and what I just realized, is that it’s the way we choose to live in each moment that defines us, not the goals or dreams we are working toward.  It is the work that we are doing, not the work that is to be done, that makes us who we are.  So, for the first time, I feel at peace with what I am doing.   I will live with the intention of going to the Olympics. I will continue to make good choices, to try for that gold, but whoever said, “there is no such thing as try, there is either will or will not,” they lied.  Trying is worth a whole lot.  Trying is everything.  And trying may get you to your final destination, it may land you elsewhere, but if you are doing your best every day, then I believe you will finish where you were meant to.  Your value is in how you work, not simply in the work that you do.  So, try to be with yourself in every moment, and feel proud to be where you are. You are on the right track.