Monday, May 21, 2007

Athletic and Sexy

People describe many Hollywood celebrities as "athletic" (Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner and Kate Bosworth in her "Blue Crush" days come to mind), but while there's no doubt that many top actresses are in great shape, their bodies have little resemblance to those of professional female athletes. There seems to be a cutoff point where society deems women "too athletic" to be considered beautiful, where defined arm muscles and 6-pack abs are sexy but large muscles, the kind required for professional sports, are masculine and off-putting.

Even among female athletes there's a huge difference between the way that women are treated based on their looks, regardless of talent. Compare the fame of Venus and Serena Williams with Maria Sharapova or Anna Kournikova, whose model good looks have landed them loads of endorsements as well as spreads in fashion and men's magazines. It's not that Venus and Serena haven't been successful off the courts, but like thousands of other top female athletes who look like athletes and not supermodels, they aren't able to have the crossover success.

One thing that really bothers me about this phenomenon is that it reinforces the idea that athletic women aren't sexy or feminine. Or rather, you can be athletic, but you can't look like an athlete.

Which brings me to my latest obsession, Ms. Laila Ali, a woman who's at the top of her game athletically, has the body to match, and is currently kicking ass and looking drop dead gorgeous as a contestant on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars."

Okay, I know I'm making myself look bad by admitting my love for "Dancing With the Stars," American Idol's even cheesier cousin which pairs C-list celebrities with professional dancers, a live band and Vegas-style theatrics. But it really is a fun show to watch, and this season's contestants are really talented. And because these stars are all only moderately famous or previously famous, you feel like they really need your love and attention, as if my tuning in each week will somehow make Joey Fatone feel like he'll be remembered for something other than being the fat guy in *NSync.

So anyway, back to Laila Ali. She's Mohammad Ali's daughter and the undefeated women's world boxing champion. She's 5'10 and 175 lbs of pure muscle. But amazingly, she's one of the best dancers in the history of the show and she's beaten out every other female contestant (including a supermodel and former Miss America). She's also totally beautiful and despite the fact that she could probably benchpress the rest of the professional female dancers on the show, she never looks out of place in a long ballgown or sexy disco minidress on the dance floor.

Here she is doing the Samba:

And here doing the Cha Cha Cha:

And if you want more videos you can check out her performance of the Jive and the Mambo on Youtube.

I just love how Laila is proving that women can look athletic and still be totally confident in their sexiness. I also think she makes a great role model for girls who love sports but don't want to be considered masculine just for being good at what they do. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of Laila and other women who challenge the stereotype of the female athlete as masculine and totally lacking sex appeal.


Corey Doyle said...

I am a total sucker for DWTS but I've been watching since day one of the series due to my Joey McIntyre obsession. I love it but this year I fear they've got too free with the 10's. I don't even pay attention to the judges scores at all because they are so wild.

Laila is impressive and I do love that she can look good without being a beanpole. She did good tonight!!

I'm rooting for Apolo though (since Ian got booted, sniff) because he's just too cute. I wish I could say I voted but their system is a mess!

She-Hulk said...

I really like this post. I lift weights about 4 times a week and I love feeling myself get stronger. Sometimes I wonder if I'm starting to look too masculine, but seeing Laila Ali reminds me that women athletes with powerful bodies can still be sexy.

Anonymous said...

You're spot-on!
This was a grea post with good insights.

Another thing I've realized about perceptions of women's bodies is that it's okay to be "curvy" ONLY if you have boobs or if you're a Latina (think J.LO and Shakira).
If you're a non-Latina with an A-cup but you have larger hips, it's "not okay" to be curvy.

Leigh said...

i have a massive girlcrush on laila and i was more than a little pissed that she didn't win because her final dances weren't "graceful" or "feminine" enough. i also think that the reason she was so good and beat the model and miss america was because of being an athlete and being used to moving around as opposed to standing still like the other two. i heart her nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I loved Laila too! She was definitely my favorite on the show. I wish I had her body. That is the body I want...not thin and twiggy, but athletic and sexy!