Rio 2016 had been an event covered in a variety of different lights contrasting from political turmoil to riots on the streets. It was a hectic period for media outlets all over the globe with continuous scrutiny on the events even continuing to the present. Although within this storm of politically inclined stories, there is one highlight that shown some light on the profession for media in particular to the representation of women within the media. I remember vividly as to flood of articles surrounding an athlete that remains down to earth and iconic for exemplifying the image of an ordinary girl. With posts and posts building up on my WeChat circles as well as Facebook, she had reached to be a viral sensation both in China and over here in North America. This athlete is China’s Fu Yuanhui who had hit international headlines for her progressive comments towards the female menstrual cycle. As she was “grimacing in pain”(Feng, 2016), she explained to the interviewer that she had missed the media due to her having her period the day before. She received sensational praise for her stance on the stigma surrounding the female reproductive system. With online commenters on the Chinese internet platform Weibo calling her a hero, she has been widely acclaimed as a role model for fair female representation within the media. Although just Fu Yuanhui is one minor example of the definite major contrast in reporting between men and women. With stigmas like the female reproductive system and the general lack of acceptance around the female body image, athletes and female icons all have to deal with continuous scrutiny surrounding their physical appearance. With this, we’re going to study the examples of female representation more a less within the framing of Chinese media.
Within Asia, cultures like Japan, Korea and China have all held the body image of women to a much greater standard than those of their male counterparts. With the enforcement of a perfect body image, products involving skincare, cosmetics and even plastic surgery, the representation of a woman’s beauty has been the emphasis towards their success. China’s media exemplifies these standards tremendously as can be seen in television, dramas and especially live events where the woman shown fit the standard cookie cutter image portrayed within so many outlets. With sponsors choosing their athletes based off of physical attractiveness, research was even conducted to exemplify the relation of consumers towards those that have a more attractive look. Therefore when characters like Fu Yuanhui comes around, they bring a breath of fresh air for those that have been caught by this unrealistic image of women. She had exposed the media to a character that had been repressed for not being a strong emphasizer of female beauty standards. There stood an ordinary girl who aims to be a olympic gold medallist without all the flowery submissive feminine characteristics that defined the standard. She had won China over with more than just her placement in the 100 meter relay at which was already an impressive feat of itself. She had won China over for her human like personality by just being a happy playful person. Although it can be argued that with this, the attention like what Couture says “diminish[es] their athletic achievements” which is true to some extent in this case being that she is being regarded more for her personality than her achievement, but this could be said that her achievement has allowed for a greater achievement which was leading the progressive movement against female beauty standards. Although this does lead to the much larger issue at hand being that the discrepancy for articles like these are definitely one in a thousand being that for someone to shine light on this issue, they had to be a olympic medallist to reach such a position of influential power.
Following the human like aspects of Fu Yuanhui, another example following a different Chinese athlete, He Zi also shines some light on the frames that the media paints these medal winning ladies. For He Zi, she had finally completed her diving event reigning as the undisputed champion, although what happened during the medal winning ceremony generated more headlines than those of her victory. Following the ceremony toward the finish, her boyfriend had taken stage to propose to her in what was meant to be one of her most important nights, thus mending together her night as a gold medallist and the betrothing of her hand in marriage. Although this led to clear backlash by the community and for right reasons in that it placed her in a clearly uncomfortable situation being in front of the entire international community as well as stealing the spotlight away from her achievement. With events like these, it can’t help but be understood that the news of a proposal would triumph that of a medal winning ceremony in that it is a rare spectacle that obviously generates conversation and interest as opposed to the winning of a medal.
Although with this underline surrounding how achievements are masked by other factors, the main issue still stems around the fragility of reporting women differently compared to men. The fact is through generations and generations of imparting a woman’s role versus a man’s, China as a nation prides itself off the images of their women with slender figures and flawless complexions. Although with this, athletes are also held to the same standard as well as all women with public images. Historically the image of “Oriental” (Hongmei, 2011) women has always been the image of a damsel or submissive especially portrayed by the West. With images of a dragon lady or women with prominent “Occidental sexuality”(Hongmei, 2011), the oriental woman has been classed for their looks and beauty. Thus China’s culture surrounding advertisements and female beauty has reflected these images with woman being portrayed with clear skin, slender and elegant. Marginally this image was used to China’s advantage even during the olympics as referred to Hongmei Li’s research on the usage of these beautiful ladies for medal ceremonies and as cheerleaders although this can easily be compared with a majority of events globally. As witnessed during all olympic ceremonies and even as well as local sporting events, the typical portrayal of sign holders, medal misses and cheerleaders are all portrayed by women exemplifying the feminine beauty standard of being gorgeous and elegant. Although with this, there is a clear intention being that the more beautiful women there are, the likely to draw the male gaze and admiration by men which in turn only contributes more towards the systematic misogyny surrounding these sporting events. The sexualization of these women are accepted by the media as long as they confine to the standards with out threatening the stigmas that surround the issues of the human body. These women can be scantily clad yet, once the discussion of anything around reproduction arises, an inferno gets set ablaze. Therefore this really highlights the fundamental issues that still plague the sports industry as well as just media representation in general for women being that the objectification of women is so engrained that typical topics of gender taboo generates mass hysteria as can be seen with Fu.
With this aspect of generating hysteria, there is another aspect of the usage of the female body that still faces scrutiny by the West although it is rather praised back in the East and this is due to a certain culture clash. This meaning that the discrepancy between cultural representation of women in the form of their age has caused for a conflict in values. The example being the Chinese Gymnastics team who have faced severe criticism for the their youthfulness to which has some traction being that due to Chinese female beauty standards, youthfulness is something to be sought after. Thus they have been facing criticism for how being too young looking thus not fitting the age standard imposed by the IOC which to some extent has some validity in that China has had a reputation of sending competitors who haven’t met these standards in the past although representing these gymnasts, Western media had contorted the scandal into a “larger ideological metaphor to represent China’s refusal to adhere to Western standards”(Yang, 2014) thus highlighting the discrepancy in cultures between American and China. It is interesting to note that there is an argument that argues that the Chinese gymnastics team does carry a role in utilizing this contrast to contradict the female beauty standards of the West being that they embody the short stature of a “real”(Yang, 2014) Chinese woman.With this comparison, it can be interpreted to be able to actually act as a symbol for the advocation of a new beauty standard being that one does not necessarily need to fit the Western style of beauty.
Although on the bright side, certain various gender equalities between men and women have been alleviated in China as opposed to here in the West being that in an interview with Jinxia Dong who’s the director of Peking University’s Research Centre for Gender, Sports and Society, it was stated that there is a minimal gap when it comes to opportunity between the two genders with equal access to coaching, facilities since the implementation of the New Marriage Law in the 1950’s. As well it was even stated that due to state-sponsorship, there was little discrepancy between the two genders as well although there was one factor that actually allowed women to earn more in wages than men. This being that through the perpetuation of females in sports, they’ve have actually more access to travelling abroad in competition although it is apparent that in terms of sponsorships from Chinese companies, the men still have the advantage.
All in all, the representation of Oriental women and the perpetuation of female beauty standards continues to generate discussion within the realm of sports. Although with characters like Fu Yuanhui and the Chinese olympic gymnastics team, the defiance of standards on top of their athleticism is really what helps disconnect the role of the athlete versus the gender stereotypes that threaten them. With the progressive usage of their roles as a olympic athlete, these ladies need not abide to standards, but break them as the defiance of these boundaries is what defines us as human beings.
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