The Pretty Factor: Must Women Be Beautiful To Work In Sports?
Since launching RulingSports.com and beginning my foray into the sports world in 2011, the question I am most frequently asked by strangers and students alike is, “Does a woman have to be pretty to work in sports?” I wish I was kidding about this, but it’s the truth.
I find it really funny that people ask me this. It’s funny to me, largely because the people who ask me this question on a whim largely have no idea that I struggled with body image and my own looks for the bulk of my life. I hit puberty before any of my friends. Thus, I sprouted new body parts and looks from my male classmates at an earlier age. Concurrent with my puberty, my perfectly straight hair decided to become incessantly kinky and unmanageable. At age 15, uncomfortable in my own skin, I picked up an eating disorder that I wouldn’t fully kick until I was 19. When I lived in LA, surrounded by models and actors as friends, I never felt beautiful enough.
It wasn’t until I launched RulingSports.com and entered the sports world that I accepted myself fully for who I am. Accepting myself fully meant accepting the brain God gave me, the senses of humor and kindness my parents instilled in me and fully loving the 5’3″ pear-shaped body and round face that I call mine. In all honesty, I think it took me starting RulingSports.com to accept every bit of myself, because starting the website was the first time that I set my heart loose to pursue its wildest dreams. It was the first time that I truly dove in and embraced who I was and let all of my fears go. The risk I took in putting myself out to the world to share my ideas was one of the most freeing experiences of my life. I was raw, exposed and out there for everyone to see.
What I realized in starting RulingSports.com, is that when you are who you are and come to the world organically, you will be met with love. Success in sports–or in any industry, relationship or venture, for that matter–has less to do about what you look like and more to do with what you are about. I truly believe this.
While I don’t have a career-based example for my point above, I do have the four years of my life that were the longest relationship I immersed myself in during my 20s. That relationship was largely based on looks. When our paths crossed in 2005, what struck each of us was how we looked. When they crossed again in 2010, it was a similar situation. Whenever our path got rocky, I thought I could solve our problems by throwing on the hottest dress in my closet, getting a good spray tan, a blowout and losing five pounds. This process would get us through a hump, but never fully over our problems. It didn’t matter if I was at my prettiest or at my ugliest, at the end of it all, the failure of our relationship had nothing to do with my looks, but rather, all to do with our hearts.
I will never allow myself to re-enter that relationship, but in the way we have interacted in the months that have followed its end, I’ve realized where we went wrong. I realized where we went wrong when I started listening and stopped looking. When I started listening, I heard dreams, wishes, hopes, pains, hurts and fears. Our hearts and their intentions were being covered by our attempts to make ourselves outwardly attractive. In listening, I finally got to know a person who for so long, my eyes wouldn’t truly let me see.
I tell the story above mostly as an anecdote of what happens when the basis of another’s worth is solely placed upon their looks. When you base the worth of another person solely on what they look like, you miss out on understanding the person as a whole. And to be successful at anything, a person must give their whole self.
So, the question. Must women be attractive to work in sports? I’ve answered this question many ways. The first time I was asked it, I spouted off about how I have never seen an ugly person. The person I told this to scoffed, but I truly stand by that proclamation. I have never looked at a person I didn’t know and thought, “Wow. That person is ugly.” To me, beauty and ugliness are not about aesthetics. Rather, they are written on the heart. And the heart lets itself show in how people treat other people, how they carry themselves and what they value.
Given that to me, beauty is written on the heart, I guess my answer to the question above is yes, women must be beautiful to work in sports. On the same note, so must men. What makes people successful in this industry is how they treat one another. This industry is small. And when industries are small, word travels fast. If you step on someone the wrong way in this industry, news will spread fast. In the same regard, if you take steps in the right direction, news of it will be celebrated quickly.
I find it curious that the question I’ve been asked the most over the last three years is whether a woman has to be beautiful to work in this industry. I’ve been mulling over why people are fascinated with this topic. And the only thing I can come up with, is because the people most laypeople associate as being successful in the sports industry are sports reporters. While those women are certainly beautiful in an aesthetic sense, seeing them as only that misses the point. Erin Andrews is one of the most eye-pleasing women I have ever seen. However, as someone who studies broadcasters before she goes on TV, Erin Andrews is also one of the finest at her craft. Her extemporaneous speaking skills are something anyone should aspire to have. Her ability to think on her feet is something this lawyer stands in awe of. Her quick wit that arises in tough situations is something I think we all wish we had. The point I am trying to make, is that Erin Andrews is more than a pretty face. She is an incredibly talented woman, whose looks in my opinion, are bolstered by that talent.
Why, then, is there such a focus on what women must look like to work in sports? I unfortunately believe this misperception is caused by two things: 1. The fact that the majority of the industry is made up of men and 2. The large media focus on the industry. I want to be careful explaining what I mean with my statement above. I am not saying that because sports is a male-dominated industry, those males require their female counterparts be beautiful. In all honesty, I have never experienced anything of this sort since I entered the industry. Not once has my agent told me to change my look, lose weight or dress differently. Rather, the men in this industry have always encouraged me to continue to be myself and further my knowledge. They have motivated me to become an expert in my field and to use that expertise–not my looks–to guide my advancement in this industry.
Yet, I think the fact that the industry is largely male-dominated creates misperceptions for those outside of the industry as to what women must look like to be part of it. I think when outsiders look at the industry and think about the women they are familiar with who work in it, they see trends. Those trends are exacerbated by a media who feeds it to them. And as such, for many, it becomes reality. However, for those who live in this world, we know that reality is about more than what clothes a woman wears, how she styles her hair or how white her smile is. Reality is about what is on that woman’s heart. What her values are. How she treats others. What knowledge she has. How hard she is willing to work. And how well she will take care of herself.
I’m proud to be a woman who works in this industry. I’m proud, because for women, our future in this industry is as bright as we choose to make it. If we choose to make our success in the sports world about looks, that would be our misstep. Instead, if we choose to support one another for what our dreams say about our heart, there is room for each of our successes. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing.