I am an athlete.  

The female athlete is rarely presented by mainstream media with the powerful and agile capabilities she innately possesses. She is portrayed through the male gaze in a manner that aims to sexualize, domesticate, and control her freedom experienced when playing sports. As a result, her power is robbed and humanity overlooked. The general public consumes these images, reinforcing the construction of a sexist hierarchy that can discourage females from engaging in sports.

The typical female portrayed within sports contains Eurocentric cultural and beauty values. She is often white, slender, and highly feminized. This stereotype further marginalizes female athletes who do not fit into this category from the eyes of societal equity.  The experience of female athletes who are racial and ethnic minorities are overlooked and erased. If they are depicted, it is typically in the manner of being an outsider or a token to be fetishized.

This series aims to show the freedom and power of female athletes which is typically disregarded within the media. Their existence rejects the construction of who an athlete can be and instead shows who an athlete is.

Simone Esters is the feature twirler for the University of Missouri. At the age of 13, she won the 2012 World Twirling Championships for the US National Team. Identifying as biracial with a Caucasian mother and African-American father, she didn’t notice differences within the sport as a result of her race when she was younger because “everyone on my team was white and I was raised by mom so it never really affected me.” As Simone has gotten older, her perception about her race and how the audience sees her has shifted. “I do think that since it makes me so recognizable it puts a lot of extra pressure on me… After I won nationals in 2012, I feel like everyone was always watching me and it was easy to watch me because you could pick me out of the crowd so fast. I would cry every time before I would go out to compete. I was so nervous about it.” During the competition, the judges place emphasis on appearance.  Esters reflects that athletes need to match their tights and shoes to their skin tone, which is problematic because the companies that produce them have actually stopped making ones of darker skin tones. Minority skin tones are not catered too, resulting in some athletes having to paint or color their shoes to not lose points in a competition.

Simone Esters is the feature twirler for the University of Missouri. At the age of 13, she won the 2012 World Twirling Championships for the US National Team. Identifying as biracial with a Caucasian mother and African-American father, she didn’t notice differences within the sport as a result of her race when she was younger because “everyone on my team was white and I was raised by mom so it never really affected me.” As Simone has gotten older, her perception about her race and how the audience sees her has shifted. “I do think that since it makes me so recognizable it puts a lot of extra pressure on me… After I won nationals in 2012, I feel like everyone was always watching me and it was easy to watch me because you could pick me out of the crowd so fast. I would cry every time before I would go out to compete. I was so nervous about it.” During the competition, the judges place emphasis on appearance.  Esters reflects that athletes need to match their tights and shoes to their skin tone, which is problematic because the companies that produce them have actually stopped making ones of darker skin tones. Minority skin tones are not catered too, resulting in some athletes having to paint or color their shoes to not lose points in a competition.

Dorothy Sedovic identifies as a ‘halfie’, her mother is Brazilian and her father is “your good old-fashioned American boy.” She started rock climbing her sophomore year of college. Within the culture of climbing, the concept of living in a van and traveling to different rock climbing locations is romanticized and idealistic. She considers it a privilege associated with white culture that is supported culturally and economically. “There is this weird juxtaposition with climbing where it is a dirtbag sport – where you’re like “Oh, you dirty hippies just going around climbing cracks” but it actually costs a lot of money. It’s not something you see in Brazil, it’s not a very common sport, so it would be considered a rich people sport. My family wouldn’t be considered a rich family in Brazil. So, if I was living in Brazil, I wouldn’t probably be climbing. I wouldn’t have access to the resources to be climbing.” With climbing not being a sport she could access if raised in Brazil, she still cites that she sees very little media coverage of climbers like her in the US. “You need to show everybody and that includes people of color too. I’ve seen people out on the cracks before and there’s a good chunk of people of color, but you don’t see that in the media. I think that it creates this idea in people’s head that it is not for them. They think- “Oh, I  don’t look like that. I don’t act like that. I don’t have those things, I can’t ever get those things. I can’t be like them.” But, the fact of the matter is, you probably won’t be like them because everyone is different. But, you can still do the sport and still have your own interpretation of it. That’s the thing with rock climbing it’s up to you, you decided when you do it and how you do it.” 

Dorothy Sedovic identifies as a ‘halfie’, her mother is Brazilian and her father is “your good old-fashioned American boy.” She started rock climbing her sophomore year of college. Within the culture of climbing, the concept of living in a van and traveling to different rock climbing locations is romanticized and idealistic. She considers it a privilege associated with white culture that is supported culturally and economically. “There is this weird juxtaposition with climbing where it is a dirtbag sport – where you’re like “Oh, you dirty hippies just going around climbing cracks” but it actually costs a lot of money. It’s not something you see in Brazil, it’s not a very common sport, so it would be considered a rich people sport. My family wouldn’t be considered a rich family in Brazil. So, if I was living in Brazil, I wouldn’t probably be climbing. I wouldn’t have access to the resources to be climbing.” With climbing not being a sport she could access if raised in Brazil, she still cites that she sees very little media coverage of climbers like her in the US. “You need to show everybody and that includes people of color too. I’ve seen people out on the cracks before and there’s a good chunk of people of color, but you don’t see that in the media. I think that it creates this idea in people’s head that it is not for them. They think- “Oh, I  don’t look like that. I don’t act like that. I don’t have those things, I can’t ever get those things. I can’t be like them.” But, the fact of the matter is, you probably won’t be like them because everyone is different. But, you can still do the sport and still have your own interpretation of it. That’s the thing with rock climbing it’s up to you, you decided when you do it and how you do it.” 

Sam Coloma is a swimmer at the University of Missouri and is from the suburbs of San Francisco, California. She is a first-generation Filipino American. Her experience as a swimmer in San Francisco, Missouri, and the Philippines are contrasting. “Growing up in California, all swim teams around me had people of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds, people of different income statuses. It wasn’t a shock to me coming into the sport.” When choosing a university, she reflects that the lack of diversity at Mizzou was worrisome. “Coming in as the tannest one of the team and taking team pictures and being the only dark colored skin girl is kind of hard because I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in. When I talk to my teammates or when we talk about how we grew up, I just hear all of their stories and they’re completely different than mine.” Sam explains that compared to the U.S., swimming is not a popular sport nor is it shown in the Philippine media. The only photographs her relatives see of the sport are ones that she and her mom share online. “I mean sometimes I guess they do not know what it is like at all so they kind of just look at me, I don’t want to brag, but as a superstar. But when I see myself against everyone else on my team, I just feel like a regular student-athlete walking around campus, no big deal. I think it is weird that some people see me as a role model because I don’t think I am.”

Sam Coloma is a swimmer at the University of Missouri and is from the suburbs of San Francisco, California. She is a first-generation Filipino American. Her experience as a swimmer in San Francisco, Missouri, and the Philippines are contrasting. “Growing up in California, all swim teams around me had people of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds, people of different income statuses. It wasn’t a shock to me coming into the sport.” When choosing a university, she reflects that the lack of diversity at Mizzou was worrisome. “Coming in as the tannest one of the team and taking team pictures and being the only dark colored skin girl is kind of hard because I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in. When I talk to my teammates or when we talk about how we grew up, I just hear all of their stories and they’re completely different than mine.” Sam explains that compared to the U.S., swimming is not a popular sport nor is it shown in the Philippine media. The only photographs her relatives see of the sport are ones that she and her mom share online. “I mean sometimes I guess they do not know what it is like at all so they kind of just look at me, I don’t want to brag, but as a superstar. But when I see myself against everyone else on my team, I just feel like a regular student-athlete walking around campus, no big deal. I think it is weird that some people see me as a role model because I don’t think I am.”

Amina Ismail was raised in Maineveille, Ohio. When asked about her racial and ethnic background, she replies “I’ve never known exactly how I am supposed to sum it up. My mom and dad are from Zimbabwe. My grandparents are Indian. I’ve asked my parents this like a million times. They’ve said our ethnicity is like Persian.” Coming from a family with her father being a professional tennis player and older siblings playing college tennis, she felt influenced to continue playing in college. “In college tennis, it is a bit different because of a lot of team’s recruit foreigners. But for professional athletes and junior tennis before college, it was definitely not as common to see someone who was not white or foreign.” Amina finds the sport more accessible for her because of her unique family dynamic. Without the support, “It would be a little tougher to keep playing the sport and feeling like your fitting in. Just because I had my family it was a lot easier for me because if they can do it, I can see how great the sport is no matter what.” For athletes entering the sport and feel isolated because of physical characteristics, she believes they should “not let other factors influence them so much, especially if they were coming from somewhere with not as many people with their skin tone or their characteristics. Because it is a great sport and you shouldn’t let that bother you from doing what you want to do.”

Amina Ismail was raised in Maineveille, Ohio. When asked about her racial and ethnic background, she replies “I’ve never known exactly how I am supposed to sum it up. My mom and dad are from Zimbabwe. My grandparents are Indian. I’ve asked my parents this like a million times. They’ve said our ethnicity is like Persian.” Coming from a family with her father being a professional tennis player and older siblings playing college tennis, she felt influenced to continue playing in college. “In college tennis, it is a bit different because of a lot of team’s recruit foreigners. But for professional athletes and junior tennis before college, it was definitely not as common to see someone who was not white or foreign.” Amina finds the sport more accessible for her because of her unique family dynamic. Without the support, “It would be a little tougher to keep playing the sport and feeling like your fitting in. Just because I had my family it was a lot easier for me because if they can do it, I can see how great the sport is no matter what.” For athletes entering the sport and feel isolated because of physical characteristics, she believes they should “not let other factors influence them so much, especially if they were coming from somewhere with not as many people with their skin tone or their characteristics. Because it is a great sport and you shouldn’t let that bother you from doing what you want to do.”