#IWD: A Sporting Chance

The battle for gender parity is one that has been played out on a sporting field, sometimes quite literally. When Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in “The Battle of The Sexes” match in 1973 it sparked a change in the way women were treated in tennis.

King quickly convinced colleagues to form the Women’s Tennis Association and after threatening to boycott the 1973 US Open, it became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.

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Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs before ‘The Battle of The Sexes’. Image via The Telegraph

King’s work was taken to a new level with the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. London marked the first games in which women could compete in every discipline and the first with a female representative from every country.

However, what was perhaps most important was the women behind the medals; this new wave of female role models, who challenge the nature of female fame and celebrity.

Since the games, sport had led the way with positive female role models, especially British ones, from Jessica Ennis Hill to Nicola Adams and Lizzie Armitstead.

These athletes have bodies revered for their strength and physical ability, not their skinniness.

Nowadays television is full of reality TV programmes, numerous talent-shows and stories of footballer’s wives, where we celebrate fame for fame’s sake. Young girls look up to Amy Childs, Cheryl Cole or Kim Kardashian.

However sporting role models convey the message that you can, and need to, reach your goals through hard work and determination.

It has become increasingly normal to see sportswomen on our screens and newspapers. Women can see for themselves that it’s possible to be successful and by the media recognising women’s achievements, it sends a strong message about female capabilities and the dedication needed to reach them.

Since Adams won her gold at the 2012 games, there has been a 50% increase in the number of women boxing and female participation has continued to increase. This shows the power of seeing successful, pioneering women.

However, it’s important to remember that successful athletes do not only inspire potential sport stars, they inspire women all over. Personally speaking, sport has always been important to me and exercise is a vital part of my weekly routine.

I see many of the most successful fashion women rely on sport for some part of their daily life – Anna Wintour regularly plays tennis and Jane Shepherdson is a keen runner. I don’t think it is any coincidence that so many of these successful female businesswomen have a close relationship with sport.

Sport helps foster self-esteem, confidence and clears minds. It creates strength, fitness and motivation, all things that are vital in becoming successful in any form of working life.

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Rick Owens SS14 Paris Fashion Week. Image via Huffington Post

I think seeing more sporting female role models is important in empowering women. There are still many images of sexualised women in popular culture, dressing to please others and disempowering themselves in the process. Sport plays a vital part in counteracting this.

Fashion and sport are similar in the sense that they both touch everyone’s lives in some way shape or form. We all do some form of exercise (or should!) and we all wear clothes. Because of this presence they have in people’s lives, they can play a significant role in social issues.

Being in Paris this week, I remember a Rick Owen’s show in 2013 where he used strong, athletic dancers to model his clothes. Fashion and sport may seem an unlikely marriage, but perhaps this fashion designer was also inspired by the rise of female sporting role models?

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