I must be paying attention because I’m really, really confused. My son Hank receives Sports Illustrated in the mail and this week’s issue is the swimsuit edition.
Interestingly enough, it was resting in the trash can next to the mailbox when a small photo on the upper right hand corner caught my eye. Danica Patrick who made her Indy Car debut in 2005 was, for the second year in a row, one of the women gracing the interior of this week’s “sports” edition.
Danica Patrick, 26, became the fourth woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 and was the first to win an Indy Car race, taking the Indy Japan 300 title in 2008.
Danica Patrick has also appeared in Playboy Magazine, Maxim and FHM.
So here is where my confusion sets up for competition, two voices each gearing up for the race to the checkered flag. One shouts “She sold out. She caved to the overpowering and seductive ploy by the men in power who profit from treating women as nothing more than objects. Individually she gains money and attention, but in doing so negates and demeans the efforts of every other female athlete, who has worked hard, persevered and honed their athletic talents to achieve amazing accomplishments. She has minimized her athleticism and reduced herself to nothing other than a sexual object …a two dimensional photo with no voice, no intrinsic talent and no meaningful contribution to the world, other than inspiring men to lust, want and objectify her for their sexual needs and fantasies.”
The other voice calmly suggests, “She is only 26. What would you have done? She is leveraging the power she has in the male-dominated sports industry to achieve financial independence and power. Sure, she is allowing herself to be objectified, but isn’t she somehow gaining power in doing so? She chose to position herself as an object. What other alternatives are there for a young woman in her position? Most male athletes are receiving multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals. It is highly likely that the only way she could solicit that kind of income from sponsors and endorsements is by doing exactly as she has done. She is laughing all the way to the bank. “
At age 15, I ran my first 3 miles. I was the basketball team manager and during practice one rainy, dreary winter day, I set out focused and determined. I covered three miles on the dirt track at my school.
I walked back into the gym as practice finished up. The boys noticed me…striped with dirt up the backside of my body, rivulets of water streaming from hair ends, strands of it carelessly tossed about my neck and shoulders. Dirt and grime were trapped on eyebrows, between teeth and behind my ears.
Not a single boy said a word…but their coach did.
“How far’d ya go, Molly?”
“Three miles,” I replied. He shook his head with positive disbelief.
“Amazing,” he sighed.
I felt the most beautiful I had ever felt in my whole life.
My daughter Helen is on the cusp of womanhood. She is in fifth grade. She is radiant, alive and joyful. She is very good at being. I love to watch her do the things she loves to do…acting, writing, playing with our dogs, running with me. I am struck by how beautiful she is. The way the sun magically sparkles in her hair when she is running beside me; the way the first drops of sweat that arise on her skin shimmer and shine. I am struck by how simple it all is…how beauty is just a way of being…it is sharing our most real and authentic self with others. True beauty is allowing others to see the dirt, the cracks, the crevices, the flaws, the sweat and the profoundness of WHO we are, uncovered, genuine and emotionally bikini clad, leaving one or two mysterious slivers of who we are covered for only us to know.
I am aware as I write this that my confusion rests not in why or why not Danica Patrick and other women give in to the plastic definitions of beauty--the definitions that portray us as flawless, empty, sexual objects. No I’m confused as to why I care so much; why I’m angered by it. Why I’m infuriated by it really. I’m confused as to why it hits me like a kick to my gut. Why each time I take a lap around the emotional track of this conversation, I’m angry, then sad, and if I’m completely honest with you jealous. Jealous that one of MY sisters opted out…she somehow cheated me by cutting the turn too close and in doing so left me in her dust.
But as I watch Helen, poised right there at the starting line, firing her engines and preparing for adolescence, I realize that what I really want is to embrace a deep level of tenderness toward Danica and all of my sisters…I yearn to obtain a welcoming understanding that what we all want really, is to feel beautiful, fully accepted and unconditionally loved just as we are.
I will continue to honor Danica for her athletic talents, her courage to compete in a sport that is dominated by men, her incredible hand to eye coordination and her willingness to challenge the status quo on the race track. I will also honor her as my sister, complete as she is and as a woman free to make choices that confuse me…and that have me wondering if she believes that by posing as an airbrushed bikini-clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, she can somehow be more beautiful than she already is.