By Megan Birch-McMichael, Guest Contributor
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I grew up as a mediocre athlete in a town that dominated many of the sports championships in our smallest of the States. This is to say that I was routinely cut from every school-level sports team because my eagerness to play was greatly outweighed by the fact that my skill-set was not up to par. I was chunky, I wasn’t very good, but man alive did I love sports. And more than anything, did I want to be part of a team.
Fast forward to a couple of decades later and I’m watching the epic teamwork of the U.S. women’s soccer team. They move together on the field, they communicate, and when that final whistle blows, they embrace with the knowledge that they are number one. They are the team that every little girl aspires to be a part of: a community of fierce athletes who dominated the field from the fifth minute.
We, my husband and I, sit and watch the post-game festivities while our two children sleep upstairs. I have tears in my eyes, knowing that my daughter is going to wake up in a world where these women, these real, muscular, strong women are the role models that America is putting forward as their best. As a woman who now writes about real women athletes as her job, it is particularly important to me to see these images in the media now, especially as the mother of young children.
And then the medal ceremony starts. And I watch, with mouth agape, as the medals are walked across the field by a line of impossibly thin, impossibly beautiful women tottering in high heels. They are the kind of women who grace every fashion magazine, the kind of women that are held up as the unattainable epitome of beauty, the kind of women who can look incredibly poised and incredibly bored at the same time.
It was a gut punch, truly. Because this group of athletes, these strong women who had just made history in a number of ways, were now watching the other side of the coin walk towards them, a line of women who still represent a standard of beauty that is held up as the highest, walking these medals across the field as no more than fancy window dressing holding trays of gold and silver.
What would have been better? Children. Young soccer players representing all of the countries that played in the tournament walking across the field in their jerseys, holding the medals that they could aspire to earn one day. What was not okay? One of the first models that walked out, with a noticeable eye roll and hair flip that read, I really wish I were anywhere but here.
I’m sure FIFA has a good reason for choosing these women to bear the medals, and one can hope that it’s not as obvious as the fact that they were pretty things carrying even prettier things, but I think that’s just me being optimistic. The only women that should have been out there with medals were the ones who had them draped over their necks. The next time the women’s World Cup rolls around, my hope is that the people who bring out the awards to the winners look a little more like the brightly attired folks who sit in the stands, cheering their teams on to victory. The only sharp footwear that belonged on that field last night were the brightly colored cleats that raced around the field for 90 minutes.
Megan Birch-McMichael is a writer raising two small children in the woods of Massachusetts along with her amazingly brilliant PhD of a husband. She loves to run incredibly long distances, to knit intricate things for tiny humans, and to write about her life experiences at anatomyofamother.tumblr.com.