Martial Talk forum asked female martial artists to give their thoughts on how we are portrayed in the media via photos in marketing materials, websites, catalogues and the like. For a while, women were really getting into it and giving their thoughts and opinions on how they think the type of images seen the most are good or bad for the art.
Then a female member posted the above picture of Kyra Gracie and the conversation shifted to the sexualization of female MAs. And again, the comments from the ladies were well-thought out head nods in agreement or equally as well-thought arguments to the contrary. Not everyone thought alike, but how they expressed it was civil.
Then a few male MAs chimed in and my head almost exploded.
For the record, although BJJ is not particularly my cup of tea, I have mad respect for any woman who suits up and trains in anything martial - be it boxing, karate, Krav or Jujitsu. From what I understand, Ms. Gracie is quite the powerhouse with a reputation for being one of the best in her art. Note that I am tossing confetti and cheering loudly for her accomplishments - but I'd be lying if I told you that the above pic doesn't totally rub my feminist sensibilities the wrong way.
One guy in particular - a BJJ practioner - argued that Ms. Gracie has inspired many women to begin training AND that she is really a role model because she is beautiful, skilled, beautiful, feminine, beautiful and very good at what she does. Did I mention he thinks she's beautiful? To further illustrate his point, he later posted at least three pics of women in booty shorts, full makeup, low-cut sports bras in psudeo-sexual poses. All the pics, he said, were excellent examples of women in martial arts because they show beauty and health. When I argued that the main problem with the depiction of female MAs is the sexualization, objectification and the lack of diversity (where are the brown women? The over 40 women? the non-size 2's?), he told me that my disdain smacked of jealousy and was, in fact, degrading to women.
So there is no ambiguity here, this is what I tried to say on the thread in a nutshell: I have no problem with beautiful women who train (afterall, I AM a beautiful woman who trains! Not to toot my own horn, but I think every woman is beautiful). What I do have a problem with is the idea that the photographic representation of female martial artists is always petite, white, 20-somethings in sports bras and exposed bellies or in skin-tight dresses and heels holding exotic weapons in their manicured hands. When someone's ideal of a female martial artist reduces us all to eye-candy, realism goes out the window, IMHO. I don't care if said MA has gotten the whole world excited about the art she studies, if you push pics of her in a push-up sports bra that dips to her navel and gi bottoms below her hips, her "role model" factor will always take a back seat to how she looks. Period.
Since forever, beautiful women have been used to sell everything from floor cleaners to anti-depressants, using some advertising executive's idea of feminine/sexy to convince the world that the product or service they're hawking is necessary. But what it really ends up doing is making us all feel inadequate because we don't look like that (heck, NOBODY does these days as even leggy supermodels are Photoshopped to death). Statistics show that the self-esteem of adult women drops significantly after they spend just 10 minutes thumbing through a fashion/pop/celebrity magazine and too many girls as young as eight have considered dieting to loose weight. Perhaps there is a connection? I'm just sayin'...
I don't know personally anyone who trains in a pink gi, much less a skimpy sports bra and leggings, no matter what art they study - not that there is anything wrong with that, but to me, being a woman is more about draping myself in pink or wearing anything form-fittingly unpractical when I TRAIN. On the mat, I wear a gi - just like my male training partners and my sensei. In the gym, I wear bike shorts and a sports tank top, not to show off curves but to get my run/lift/crossfit on without dehydrating. Is it too much to ask folks looking for images for their karate equipment websites, catalogues and karate websites to aim for a little realism? Gheesh...