The 2016 Summer Olympics are in full swing in Rio. As with any Olympics, there are lots of fascinating statistics and stories coming out of Brazil daily. But, there’s one statistic that is of particular interest to me and, I think, bodes well for the future well-being of girls in the United States. This summer the U.S. has the largest female contingent in the history of the Olympics. And, for the second time, the U.S. is represented by more female athletes than male athletes.
Gone are the norms of my mom’s generation that told us it’s unladylike to sweat, that healthy competition was a man’s endeavor, physical strength an unnecessary achievement and that muscles detract from physical beauty. Girls are learning from the women representing our country in Rio that these old rules are myths.
Further, female Olympians are proving that physical strength and fitness come in all shapes and sizes. That girls who aspire to be Olympians don’t have to be born with a physique perfect for only gymnastics or figure skating.
What’s remarkable when looking at pictures of these women is that, while they all have fitness, physical strength and endurance in common, their outward physical appearances run the gamut. But none of them resembles the 5′ 10″ and 110 lbs frame of the typical runway or magazine model.
The young women in the Olympics today are teaching our girls that it’s good to have dreams but they’re not achieved by sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to wave a wand. They’re learning from example that achieving goals takes commitment, hard work and persistence. They’re learning that failures and defeats are a part of realizing one’s dream and the only real obstacles any of us face are the ones we place on ourselves. That all of these things build character and make us better human beings.
These, of course, are lessons Olympians have taught young people for generations. What’s new this year is the U.S. female athletes are teaching our girls that physical strength and endurance are cool. That there is no activity that’s off limits. And that there is no one height, weight, bone structure or skin, hair or eye color that makes one woman stronger, more capable or more attractive than another. In short, anyone can be fit and being fit is beautiful.
This is huge. We have a long way to go in the realm of body image issues in this country. But, thanks in no small part to the U.S. Olympic women, we sure have come a long way.