By the middle of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the most celebrated accomplishment seemed to be when the teen girl in the pop music montage triumphantly changed her status from “single” to “in a relationship.” Sigh. With all the talk about “inspiring the next generation of athletes,” I practically guffawed.
As a mom of a girl, I consume media with a much more critical eye, particularly with her sitting next to me. (I know mothers of boys are also bothered by the pervasive media picture of what being a girl or woman—or boy or man for that matter—should look like…) What better opportunity to observe the media than the Olympics?
A few disappointments:
—The teen girls in the opening ceremony music scene preen, primp, put on make-up, try different outfits, flirt with boys and use social media. Hurray! How about we celebrate what teen girls can do, like the Hippie Pandas, a group of girl scouts who developed a cheap solar pasteurizer, who aren’t just into “partying” like Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira assert all teens do around the world. (I bet in many nations, teens are out getting clean drinking water and working to support their families.) Why don’t we celebrate humanitarian and scientific achievements to inspire young people as much as pop culture and stereotypes?
—Why does my daughter have to see the beach volleyball player in the Cover Girl commercial making sure that she won’t forget she has to look pretty, not just be an elite Olympic athlete?
—The rap song featured during the opening ceremony “house party” scene describes going out and drinking until you “pass out.” Super!
In other Olympic news (not the opening ceremony)
—Will the women’s beach volleyball compete in thongs in 2016? Why are the men’s butt cheeks covered while the women’s are on display? (There was a controversy about some of the women selling ads on their butts in earlier competitions. Folks could scan the code on their butts with their smartphones and get to gambling websites. Huzzah!) What I object to is that it is compulsory for the women to wear bikinis, though kindly, now women can wear more clothes if it is below 60 degrees. (Will the women in ping-pong be ordered to start wearing bikinis to increase viewership? How about skeet shooting?)
—Interviews focus on the “player” Lochte (not player as in athlete, but as in “playing” the field and his swooning female conquests), or how the fans will recognize the gymnasts who might get to meet Hollywood celebrities!
—A recent story reported that 20% of elite women athletes suffer with an eating disorder, and I’m getting tired of the interviews mentioning how the athletes never eat gluten, or “fast every 8th day,” or how they haven’t had “dessert in two years.”
—Story after story focuses on horrid injuries (mostly in gymnastics that I have seen so far) and praise the athletes for not giving up: one gymnast after a head injury and two repaired ACLs (knee surgeries there). I worry that many of these athletes will live with chronic pain for the rest of their lives.
The message seems to be to ignore your body, your pain, your hunger. Do not trust your body, but punish, push and ignore it.
The good news is, it is giving me many opportunities for talks with M, for media “literacy” but also to question messages about what is “healthy” and admirable versus extreme and maybe not healthy. And, you’re right, I’m not a lot of fun to watch the Olympics with, but M cries anyway when the team she likes, usually Australia because she loves koalas, doesn’t win. It’s all really quite an ordeal all around.
(Ironically, while searching through articles on gymnastics and injuries, several Livestrong articles online outlined the increased injuries from stress fractures to osteoporosis and early arthritis. Not one “treatment” section recommended backing off on grueling training, and the Livestrong catch phrase, “The limitless potential of you” was telling. No, we don’t all have “limitless” potential. When the labrum tears in your hip joint, or your achilles tendon ruptures—twice—it has to be clear, there are limits…)
What do you think? Am I a cynical fuddy-duddy, or can we inspire and normalize girls and young people wanting to make the world a better place? Can we not celebrate more than house parties, hooking up and binge drinking, the lipstick you wear, how short your skirt is over only-skinny legs, or the boy you crush on? Other than the National Spelling Bee, which is a bit of a side-show, how about we celebrate young people for doing amazing things with their minds, not just their bodies?
I think it’s official. I am a cynical fuddy-duddy. (P.S., an FB friend also noted how fast the cameras picked out the best looking women to focus on from each country in the parade of nations.) So far, Mr. Bean has been the most “inspired” part of the Olympics for me.
Are you watching the Olympics? What do you think?