Girls and young women are under constant pressure. Don’t believe me? Just look around: billboards touting thin bodies, made-up faces, and perfectly-in-place hair. As women, we are inundated with messages from media, telling us we are not enough. Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not demure enough. Not friendly enough.
Come to think of it, we’re also inundated with messages saying we’re too much. Too muscular. Too loud. Too opinionated. Too strong.
Luckily, times, they are a’ changin’. And strong women are leading the way.
The Importance of Strong Women
While there are still plenty of unhealthy messages in advertising and the media, more and more strong, fierce females are stepping up the challenge to become role models for younger generations. And let’s face it: they’re pretty fantastic role models for us not-so-young women, too.
Female athletes have become visible in recent years, showing us that the female body is capable of incredible feats. However, strength comes in many forms. It’s also crucial for young girls to see strong women shattering the glass ceiling, from their classrooms all the way up to the top tiers of government (we see you, Madam Vice President!).
While women are taking their rightful place in all the places decisions are being made, there is still much to do. Last year saw more female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than at any other time in history – a whopping 7%. That’s right: just 36 of the 500 most influential companies are run by women.
The fact is, even though we’ve made progress, there is still a long way to go.
Female Athletes Leading the Way for Equal Representation
Perhaps the best way to cultivate inner strength is to display outer strength. Yet, while 40% of all athletes are women, female sports make up only about 4% of television sports coverage. When female athletes are covered, the focus is often on their appearance, familial status, or the accomplishments of their male trainers and coaches.
Consider the U.S. soccer’s Women’s National Team. These extraordinary athletes have won the FIFA World Cup four times since 1991. The men’s team has won… (*checks notes*) …never. Yet, the male athletes receive significantly more pay, more coverage, and better working conditions than their more successful female counterparts. In fact, the U.S. Women’s National Team won a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming gender discrimination. Though the female athletes have more success than the men, they still receive a fraction of the notoriety.
As the saying goes, “if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.” Our young girls need to see strong, motivated, successful female role models – both on screen and off. If the media won’t take charge, it’s up to us to show our girls what real strength looks like.
Encouraging Body Positivity
Female athletes make extraordinary role models. They encompass many attributes we want our girls to possess: hard work, determination, physical and mental strength, leadership, and confidence.
Our kids and bombarded 24/7 by messages about how they should look, dress, act, and think. While having strong female role models can’t combat those messages overnight, they can begin to move the needle towards self-love and body positivity.
When a young girl sees a female athlete – muscular and competitive – on the screen, it can change how she sees herself and her own body. Imagine if our daughters strived to be strong rather than skinny, healthy rather than popular. Imagine if they believed they were every bit as capable and worthy as the boys of achieving their dreams, becoming leaders, and changing the world.
Imagine if we believed that of ourselves, too.
Taking the Lead
Perhaps it’s time for female athletes to take the forefront. And perhaps we as parents, coaches, sisters, and friends point to these strong women as the example of what is possible.
We can start by modeling strength in our own lives, both in the gym and outside its walls. Let’s talk to our daughters about inner beauty. Let’s normalize strong bodies, with thick thighs and bulging biceps. Let’s shift the conversation from asking about significant others to instead asking about her hopes and dreams for the future. Let’s open up the conversation about why female athletes aren’t getting equal screen time and demand change.
Indeed, strong women make the best role models. May we be them, and may we point our younger generations towards them.