“Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”

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That’s an excerpt from this article, which also contains the following:

… “It’s all contributing to how to be a professional,” league President Donna Orender said of the orientation classes. “I do believe there’s more focus on a woman’s physical appearance. Men are straight out accepted for their athletic ability. That’s reality. I think it’s true in every aspect of the work force. This is all about a broader-based education.” …

In fairness, the author of the article doesn’t necessarily endorse this, and sounds maybe even a little rueful when noting that “Even this newspaper, during a five-day series of stories chronicling the origin of the Sky franchise, posed players in gowns with basketballs.” The article contains this critique:

… Susan Ziegler, a Cleveland State professor of sports psychology, said disparity in wages and media coverage between male and female athletes, along with a battle against perceived negative stereotypes, are factors in marketing female sports figures for their physicality rather than their athletic assets.

The WNBA, she said, seems to be becoming more image-conscious.

“No. 1 is, of course, the need for the image of WNBA players to be seen as real women,” Ziegler said. “That comes from the lesbian homophobia that surrounds women in sports in general.”

Ziegler has done extensive research on female athletes being sexualized through the media. Even with something as common as applying lipstick, promoting physical appeal can take away from the athletes’ legitimacy, she says.

“Once you begin to worry about how the person looks as opposed to how she plays, you’ve crossed the line into dangerous play,” Ziegler said. “We’re not really focused on marketing them as athletes but as feminine objects.” …

The WNBA, however, is apparently justifying this focus on physical appearance as a “celebration of womanhood”:

… Renee Brown, the WNBA’s vice president of player personnel, said the league aims to show its players as “mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and entrepreneurs” and their “womanhood” is important to promote the league.

“You’re a woman first,” Brown said. “You just happen to play sports. They enjoy dressing up and trying on outfits, where back in the day, everyone just wore sweats.

“Call it what you want. We’re just celebrating their womanhood.” …

In a way, this makes a sad and depressing sort of sense. Female actors and musicians are held to extreme standards of beauty no matter how talented they are, and harshly punished when they fail to achieve them. Female comedians can sometimes get away with looking average, but only if they make constant self-abusive self-flagellation about their appearances part of their acts. Basketball players are entertainers too, and just excelling at their sport just isn’t going to be good enough to succeed in this culture.

–Ann Bartow

Update: Viva La Feminista observes: “ After cooling off from my initial shock and anger, I realized that this is just one more step in the craptastic direction of making some of the strongest and best athletes in the world into cheesecake pin-ups.” Read her full take on this development here.

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0 Responses to “Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”

  1. brat says:

    Ok, who put Rene Portland in charge of this? (She was the famously homophobic women’s b-ball coach at Penn State, who was legendary for patrolling players’ hair, make-up, and dates).