While Andy Murray was winning Wimbledon and being crowned honorary prince of the British Empire (such as it is), Marion Bartoli was being dragged through the muck of the Twitter-verse.
The irony was apparent because, on the surface, Murray and Bartoli both did the exact same thing. They both won the most famous tennis singles event on the planet. They both beat extraordinarily worthy competitors to emerge victorious. They both appeared sincerely excited and humbled by the moment. They both have inspiring stories of hard work and disappointment that led to them to this, their Wimbledon-winning peak.
But Marion Bartoli has something else. She has morons, like John Inverdale (the Radio 5 live presenter), who equate being good with looking good and find her summarily wanting. She has assholes, like the Dan’s and Will’s of Twitter, who called her ugly, fat, and mannish. She has the weight [no pun intended] of an unrealistic set of expectations that female tennis players must be tall, thin, blonde, and beautiful in order to win. That “heterosexy” weight is one that all female athletes bear. It’s the weight that made bikinis the mandated uniform for Olympic beach volleyball. It’s the weight that focuses publicity not always on the best female athletes, but on the prettiest ones. It’s the weight felt by every girl who has ever felt the need to wear makeup to play a sport. It’s the weight felt by anyone and everyone who is different. It’s the weight the Williams sisters have made a career out of poking holes in.
It’s also the weight felt by athletes, like Sabine Lisicki (the player who lost to Bartoli), who are constantly reduced because of their looks. Players like her, like Anna Kournikova, and like Maria Sharapova did not ask to be born to conform to some ridiculous standard of beauty. And when commentators and advertisers focus on that rather than their skill, they are reduced to mere sex-objects.
Some commentators have felt the need to point out that Bartoli is, in fact, pretty. I think they’re missing the point. The point is that there is literally no reason why anyone should care whether Bartoli is pretty or not. SHE JUST WON THE BIGGEST TENNIS TOURNAMENT ON THE PLANET. She should be sweaty. She should be grinning her ass off. She should be celebrated as an incredible athlete, and being an incredible athlete has nothing to do with how one looks.
That, at the end of the day, is the biggest problem with Inverdale’s comments. He said, “Do you think that 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’?” He also said, in earlier remarks, that Bartoli is “an incredible role model for people who aren’t born with all the attributes of natural athletes.”
Tanya Gold at The Guardian responded to the latter comment perfectly when she said “I would have thought that winning Wimbledon displayed all the attributes of a natural athlete …” Inverdale missed the point completely. When he said “attributes of natural athletes” he meant “tall, blonde, sexually desirable to him.” That, as far as I know, has nothing to do with athletic prowess, which is why none of the commentators at the men’s match mentioned it with regard to Murray.
No, Bartoli will never be Sharapova. She will never be massively tall, nor, short of hair bleach, blonde. But Inverdale equates Sharapova’s looks with skill, and that is nothing short of ridiculous. No, Bartoli will never look like Sharapova. But that doesn’t mean she can’t play better than her.
Written by Samantha Jaffe