Lolo Jones and Her Pretty Girl Problem
This hasn’t been Olympic Hurdler Lolo Jones’ week and ironically it has less to do with her not bringing home a medal after placing fourth in her 100-meter race last night, and more to do with what happens when the pretty girl doesn’t live up to the pedestal society placed her on simply because of her looks.
Let me explain that a bit. Lolo is a stellar athlete. The 30 year old’s sheer participation in this year’s games tells you that, as do the Indoor World Champion medals and records she holds. Is she the best hurdler on the American team? I’m not qualified to judge that, but I do know she’s received more mainstream attention than any other woman on the American track team. New York Times writer Jere Longman would say that’s because of a carefully calculated effort on Lolo and her PR team’s part. I think American bias plays a bigger role in that coverage than the columnist acknowledges.
In his piece, “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image,” the author wrote:
“Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.”
“Women have struggled for decades to be appreciated as athletes. For the first time at these Games, every competing nation has sent a female participant. But Jones is not assured enough with her hurdling or her compelling story of perseverance. So she has played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal. And, too often, the news media have played right along with her.”
If you recall, Lolo has spoken quite openly about her virginity over the years—a choice I mentioned before I didn’t think was wise because it invites the very type of backlash exhibited here. Longman wasn’t writing this piece as an op-ed on sexism in sports coverage, he wrote it because he was disappointed that he expected Lolo to lose her race yesterday, which she did. For him, that confirmed his assumption that she thinks she’s too sexy for her sports bra. I say that because he opened the article with, “judging from this year’s performances, Lolo Jones seems to have only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles and almost no possibility of winning gold.” He then outlines the so-called scandalous endeavors she’s been involved in off the track, like posing nude for ESPN and being nearly naked on the cover of Outside magazine, saying, “If there is a box to check off, Jones has checked it. Except for the small part about actually achieving Olympic success as a hurdler.”
The crux of Longman’s article is Lolo had no right to make us interested in her if she wasn’t going to deliver the goods, better yet the gold. This backlash is proof of one simple thing: when you’re hot (because of your looks and your skill) everyone loves you, and when you’re not, the praise and the recognition fades as though it were never there. Longman would have no problem with Lolo’s image if she actually won. Yet his argument still isn’t that Lolo should have spent more time training than taking pics and that’s because he can’t argue that. Lolo did train—for four years—to participate in the Olympics this year. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t stopped the athlete from being called the Anna Kournikova of track, a slight that brought the hurdler to tears on the “Today Show” as she relayed her feelings on the backlash, saying:
“I think it was crazy just because it was two days before I competed, and then the fact that it was from a U.S. media…They should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds. I just thought that that was crazy because I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, which is heartbreaking.”
“I have the American record. I am the American record holder indoors, I have two world indoor titles. Just because I don’t boast about these things, I don’t think I should be ripped apart by media. I laid it out there, fought hard for my country and it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”