How a BBC Commentator's Remark on Marion Bartoli's Looks Reflect Reality of WTA

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2013

Marion Bartoli smiles after winning her 2013 Wimbledon title.
Marion Bartoli smiles after winning her 2013 Wimbledon title.Pool/Getty Images

A British commentator's remarks about Marion Bartoli's looks reflect the reality of the WTA's ongoing "beauty pageant."

Bartoli was still celebrating her win at 2013 Wimbledon when BBC presenter John Inverdale made disparaging comments about her looks.

The Guardian quoted Inverdale as saying "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?".

The comment was ridiculous considering Bartoli is nearly three years older than Maria Sharapova. So it's unlikely Bartoli's father was comparing the two. Besides, only a cruel father would tell his daughter she was “never going to be a looker."

Otherwise, Inverdale aired publicly what many tennis fans were discussing privately. In fact the Daily Mail included several Twitter comments in which trolls called Bartoli “too fat” or not pretty enough.

Former CIA officer Valarie Plame wondered, via Twitter, if such comments would have been made about a male champion.

The backlash against Inverdale is understandable. But is it fair?

Can we ignore the obvious advantages that come with being "a looker" in women's tennis?

Plame is correct. We don't ever hear comments about Andy Murray's receding hairline and five o'clock shadow.  

Unfortunately, the WTA and its players have played a role in creating this double standard. 

The WTA tries to walk a fine line between promoting prettiness and championing athleticism. It’s the same delicate balance that many women in sports struggle with.

Can you sell sex appeal while demanding equality and professionalism?

We know female sportscasters aren’t allowed to have beer guts or bald heads. However, how many male sportscasters could get away with delivering the news in tank tops or mini-skirts?

You ever notice how female sideline reporters are dressed down and the men remain dressed up?

Women, we can’t have it both ways.

If we are going to attack every broadcaster who utters sexist remarks, shouldn’t we also slam Michelle Beadle for routinely wearing thigh-high outfits on the air?

The truth is, what Inverdale said, while harsh and inappropriate, just reflects the reality of the role looks play when it comes to women in sports.  

Looks matter. Why else is Sharapova making nearly twice as much in endorsement money as Novak Djokovic

Anyone who follows the WTA can see that today's players are wearing makeup and bedazzled finger nails during competition.

When Victoria Azarenka injured herself in the first round at Wimbledon, she began to cry. You could see the mascara smudges around her eyes.

Meanwhile, the WTA, which champions its fight for equal prize money, has been running a "Strong is Beautiful" campaign.

Instead of images of female athletes battling on the court, the WTA campaign features players "glammed up" and air brushed.

The players are wearing silky and sequin dresses with glitter flying off their rackets. They look like they are on their way to a dance club instead of a tennis court.

That's how the WTA chose to showcase its talent.

During its 40th anniversary campaign, no player was featured across the banner of the WTA's website more than Sharapova.

There's nothing wrong with female athletes wanting to look glamorous. You can be strong and beautiful. 

But if looks are rewarded, promoted and appreciated above accomplishments, why get bent out of shape over comments like Inverdale's? 

What Inverdale said was rude and crude.

Yes, he was being sexist, focusing on Bartoli's looks instead of her achievement.

He was insensitive, maybe even mean.

But, he was keeping it real.


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