“Keep her in the game”: Raising a girl during the Olympics

It’s true, everything changes once you become a mother –even the Olympics.

I’ve never followed the Olympics too closely. They sit on the background and grab my attention when a competition I like comes on screen. However, one of my favorite things about the Olympics is getting to see female athletes compete.

I know, women regularly compete in different leagues around the world; but I live in Latin America, and women’s leagues get very little (if any) media attention. What’s worse, when women do compete in sports, male commentators can’t resist their urge to comment on that tennis player’s beauty, or that football player’s sculpted legs. It’s sickening.

Despite the many obstacles female athletes face just because they are women, the Olympic Games are a small break from male-dominated sports coverage.

This year, however, I have a bigger reason to pay attention to female athletes during the Olympics: Elisa, my 3 (almost 4) year old daughter. She noticed nenas (“girls”) participating right away. Now when male athletes came on screen she asks, “¿y las nenas?” (“and the girls?”). She is paying attention.


Elisa is already being bombarded with messages about beauty, especially because she is beautiful (and no, I don’t say that just because I’m her mom). But she is also smart, creative, funny, and loves “racing”, kicking the ball around, and dancing. She is obviously not the only 3-year-old girl that enjoys playing sports in her own, pre-schooler way; it’s only natural, kids her age can rarely sit still for more than 10 minutes. But the distorted messages about beauty that she is already hearing as a little girl might affect her decision to pursue sports (as a hobby or professionally), as the Women’s Sports Foundation explains:

In a society that teaches girls to judge their worth on looks rather than abilities, it’s no wonder that by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. When they walk away from sport, they walk away from their potential.

The Foundation has launched a campaign called “Keep her in the game” to encourage parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches to help girls stay in sports. The campaign’s website highlights six reasons why girls drop out of sports, one of them is “lack of positive role models”:

Today’s girls are bombarded with images of external beauty, not those of confident, strong female athletic role models. To some girls, fitting within the mold that they are constantly told to stay in is more important than standing out. Peer pressure can be hard for girls at any age; when that pressure isn’t offset with strong encouragement to participate in sports and healthy physical activity, the results may lead girls to drop out altogether.

That’s why this year the Olympics have become especially important in our house. I don’t know if Elisa will play sports, stay in ballet, or even be interested in athletics when she is older. I’m just glad that for a few weeks she can watch and cheer for women who are being recognized worldwide for their hard work and determination, not for their physical “beauty”.

Check out the video for the “Keep her in the game” campaign:

And if your daughter likes books like my Eli, check out A Mighty Girl’s recommendations for books on Sports/Games.


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