If you flip on the television this month, you will experience an overwhelming feeling of pride, patriotism and passion: The Summer Olympics are here.
But for women and girls, the London 2012 Summer Olympics represents something larger, something more victorious than just bringing home the gold. For the first time in Olympic history, all participating teams will have female competitors. Now, girls in each of the 204 countries competing will be able to cheer for strong women as they participate in the world's largest sports competition.
For me, the 2012 Olympics Games represent a step forward in gender equality in sports. I understand much work remains to be done, but this is a time for celebration. I'm celebrating the achievements of women athletes as equals to their male counterparts.
If we let the media outlets define what we should think about women in the Olympics, you may have a different sentiment. Even with this great concentration of talent and teamwork, we cannot seem to do away with the objectification of women.
Gabby Douglass made history by being the first African-American and first woman of color in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion. She also is the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. With these groundbreaking "firsts," you would think coverage about Douglass would center on how she's a hero to young girls. Not quite.
We are placing value on the wrong topics. Let's shake things up a bit and focus on what could make a difference to young girls such as positive body image, self-esteem and healthier nutrition. If we use the Olympics as a backdrop to conversations with young girls about exercise and nutrition, could we combat child obesity?
We should also be teaching our young girls about how some Olympians have experienced and overcome challenges faced by women and girls in our communities. Take Kalya Harrison, the first-ever American judo gold medalist. Harrison came forward to the media about her life at ages 13-16 when she was sexually abused by her coach. She once was depressed and suicidal. Kayla persevered.
Girls should also be hearing about Kellie Wells, another teenage sexual abuse survivor. Kellie committed her energy, mind and body to training in an effort to overcome the abuse. This bronze medalist wants other survivors to know, you don't have to be a victim. The topics of abuse and violence are all too familiar. These women show us that it does not have to stop us from achieving our chosen path to success. For athletes, the Olympic Games are a representation of being one of the best in the world. These athletes represent their countries with pride for an opportunity to secure a spot on the winner's podium.
Olympians are professionals. They train, perfect and practice their craft because they want to be the best. If I could moonlight as a sports commentator, my broadcast wouldn't focus on the female athletes dress size or hair. I would talk about the success of Gabby Douglass. I would highlight the strength of Kayla Harrison and Kellie Wells. And when I mention image and confidence, I'd use Holley Mangold, a super heavyweight, who is proud of her body, all 350 pounds of it. My viewers would know that women in the London 2012 Olympics, just like their male counterparts, are champions for their athleticism and determination.
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