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Guest Editorial: Sex and the Female Athlete

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 20, 2014 3:33 AM
Guest Editorial: Sex and the Female Athlete

Written by: Jen Hudak
Photo: Scott Markewitz

Jen Hudak is an American freeski athlete specializing in halfpipe. Jen is a 5-time X-Game medalist, winning 2 golds in X-Games in 2010 alone. She has won nearly every competition there is: X-Games, US Open, World Ski Invitational, Dew Tour, and US Nationals, to name a few.  Jen was instrumental in bringing ski half pipe to the Olympic Games where it will debut in Sochi next month.  In the summer Jen spends a lot of time mountain biking and training at the US Ski Team facility in Park City.

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 Reportposted 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.

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!

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?

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…).

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]…)

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?)

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