The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hard to Hurdle With Monkeys on Your Back

A few months ago, Lolo Jones went public sharing her choice to remain a virgin until marriage. Initially, I will admit, I was curious why this was all of the sudden newsworthy. I mean, besides being an incredible athlete who hails from my home state (IOWA SHOUT OUT!), I’m sure there are many more interesting things about Lolo other than the choice she has made to remain a virgin. Like the fact her name is LOLO. Such a cool name, don’t cha think??

So why now talk about this? Is it “big news” simply because it’s an Olympic year and she has a name to make after a devastating performance in Beijing? Maybe. Is it a marketing ploy by her publicist? I don't think so. But so what if it is! That doesn’t change anything, other than it might make people uncomfortable. Oh, sorry, I forgot. We’re not supposed to talk about personal things in the media, because that would make people seem human. Excuse me… I'll keep my history and everything that makes me ME to myself because that might piss someone off. Because we can't all learn from each other or anything...

Seriously though, what is the fascination with this woman, other than her obvious physical and athletic traits? Apparently the media (or at least The New York Times) thinks Jones is an attention-whore, so that's why they're interested... A NY Times journo recently wrote a piece about how with Lolo, it's all about the 'image' or beauty and not actual achievement/talent. I guess Jere Longman was victimized by a beautiful hurdler somewhere in his past because why else would he be so cynical as to rip Lolo a new one, for no reason? And when did respectable news organizations start targeting individuals and make them into an effigy of public ridicule? (BREAKING NEWS: This isn't the 1950s. We have progressed... Kind of.) People get sued over defamation like this! Yes, she’s a public figure who opened up about some stuff and is therefore susceptible to criticisms, but this article should be recognized as crossing the line between professional critique and school yard-style bullying. Does she really deserve to be thrown to the lions? I doubt this will hurt her career (in all honesty, it'll probably help it), but for realz, this is just unnecessary.

Almost as much as the following statement:
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.” - Jere Longman, NY Times
Photo cred:
Longman goes on to basically say Lolo is teasing everyone by posing nude for Sports Illustrated because she’s flaunting her stuff but keeping her virginity intact, thus exploiting herself to gain endorsements… Right. Because beautiful women can’t be virgins. Or maybe they can, but they must want the D really badly… And even then, if they are beautiful, they can't publicize it without looking like a phony. This is just another example of how society wants to keep all those demonic, feminine whiles in check. Because you have to either be sexy or chaste, not both. WELL EFF THAT. Did anyone even see that SI issue? Those were the most artistic and tasteful nude photos I've ever seen. And they were showcasing beautiful, female athletes. There is a diverse pool of women out there who are all beautiful in various respects. But the media tells women (whether they’re a famous athlete or not) again and again that in order to be successful, they have to be a certain kind of beautiful, showing off the right amount of skin (you know, so they don’t whore shit up everywhere) and then if/when they get any shred of empowerment from doing so, they’re portrayed as power-hungry demons who need to get back in line. If that isn’t sending mixed signals, I don’t know what is. --Maybe if everyone (especially Longman) wasn't so busy putting Lolo and other women in boxes (see the "vixen, virgin, victim" comment) they'd see that people can be a lot of things/labels, should they choose to use them.

Then there's all this smack about Lolo opening up about her past... You know what? It takes incredible courage to speak about about your past, especially if it's a rough one. I can sympathize 100%. The thing people need to understand is, everyone handles stuff differently. If you need to blog or keep a personal journal to get your feelings out, go ahead and do it. If you have to talk to close friends/family or perfect strangers who you meet on an airplane to get emotions off your chest, freakin' do it. Because individuals need to cope in ways that can benefit them. Maybe letting the world know is the way Lolo handles things. Who am I to judge that?

I don’t care if Lolo shared her story for marketing reasons (which, just to clarify, I don't think she did). I don’t care if she has a thousand sponsors she’s trying to please... That's kind of the price you have to be willing to pay if you're good at what you do. Everything is business. And I don’t care if she ever wins an Olympic medal (although I know homegirl will). What I do care about is everyone’s hypocrisy surrounding this non-issue. I mean, no matter who it is and what they're doing, people need to talk about it. But there's a deeper issue here. I think it comes down to an epidemic called, Jealous Entitlement. If someone is succeeding, haters have to tear that person down so they feel better about themselves... Let's be honest, we all want stuff. But most importantly, we want other people's stuff. Their beauty, their fame, their raw talent. And if we can't get it, we demonize that person to divert our attention from our own selfish problem(s) (Notice how I said we/our. That means me too, people).

Basically, what I’ve gathered about this whole thing is, Lolo's damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Big brother is always going to be watching over, waiting for her to do something worthy of scrutinization. That has to be tough. And a lot of people have said, maybe going on the Today Show and getting emotional about how much this treatment must suck wasn’t the best way of handling things. But I want someone to tell me what is the best way of handling things… Please, point me to the handbook on life and the chapter that says, "You must respond in these ways to judgment from peers, America and culture because you, as a public figure, must accept that this is how things are." I'm sure being put in a box gets pretty old.

Ok, so if you didn’t see this year's 100m hurdle final, here it is. You may notice 2 things: 1. Lolo's American teammates placed 2-3 (oh, and the Aussie's pick up a gold medal and set an Olympic record, NBD). 2. Lolo just misses the medal podium (but still runs a season’s best and valiant 4th place finish). In an interview following the race, her 100m hurdle teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells seem unenthusiastic about Jones getting so much attention, considering they took home silver and bronze (Harper is also the 2008 Olympic champ in the event). I can see how this is justified. As a former track and field athlete, I’ve also been in the position where my teammates have overshadowed accomplishments I’ve made. I can’t say I’d react any differently had I won gold in Beijing and silver in London and have no one really care/remember.

But here’s something I don’t get: These ladies are teammates, but Harper and Wells sure as hell aren’t acting like it. Maybe the pros think of sportsmanship a little differently, but my impression of being a teammate is that you support each other NO MATTER WHAT happens before, during or after a race. You may hate every molecule of someone on your team, but because you wear the same jersey, it is your duty to respect them. Whether they win gold, trip on the 9th hurdle, or face plant into the steeple pit, you share your joys and your tragedies together. Because that’s what being a teammate is all about. Track is an interesting sport because athletes [for the most part] compete in individual events, but all contribute to a team score. But this is no excuse for petty remarks and immaturity about who does/doesn’t get the limelight after a win… Eff that shit. You’re either a team player or you’re not. Yah, it's too bad no one cares as much about the accomplishments of Harper, Wells, or any other American track and field athlete. But sweet Jesus, if you can't act like a teammate, don't be one.

At the 2012 Olympic Trials. From left: Jones, Harper, Wells

Like I said earlier, I doubt Lolo’s V-card is the most interesting thing about her. However, it is interesting that so many people seem to want to talk about her so negatively, whether it's in regards to her beauty, life decisions or fame. What gives, America?!? I think everyone just needs to get off her back already. I'm sure it's really hard to hurdle with people always on her about stupid stuff...

Bottom line, you can't deny Lolo's talent, strength and determination. She picked herself up from a heavy past, Beijing, and has been doing everything possible to redeem herself. Maybe she hasn't on the track yet, but she has on a human level... Has it ever crossed anyone's mind that by her opening up about her past and personal choices that she's being an inspiration to some young girls out there? Letting them know that it may be hard to go home at night, but you can still love yourself and do great things... Or that you don't have to put out for the first person you meet... Who knows, maybe she could influence kids in a positive way. Crazy thought! Because heaven forbid we have shit role models out there for girls to grow up envying... OH WAIT, THEY'RE EVERYWHERE.

I'll be interested to see if there's any criticisms of other female Olympians, should they start to speak about their pasts, take fashion risks, or any other fuel journalists or the public can use to stoke the fire that burns against them in various respects.

Until next time,
Erin G

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