Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Look Beneath the Skin for Real Beauty

Laila Ali: more than meets the eye

You know on Facebook how some folks like to post photos of celebrities and other famous people? Well, how come when the photo is of a female, most of the comments center on how good (or bad) she looks?
Recently, someone posted a picture of celebrity sports figure Laila Ali. Like her father, former heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali, Laila was also a title winning boxer. During her career, Laila racked up 24 wins, with no losses or draws. That’s no small feat. Yet on Facebook, the majority of the people commenting on her photo spouted rhetoric normally reserved for beauty queens, not retired professional boxers.
Now admittedly, Laila is a looker. But this particular photograph was no glamour shot. Yes it was a professional studio portrait, but she wasn’t in the least dolled up. She wore minimal makeup, and sported a simple casual outfit: t-shirt, Capri pants and some sneakers. There was nothing remotely jazzy, or in my opinion, sensual about the photo. Think, girl-next-door. All that was with her in the shot was the giant exercise ball she sat on, along with a pair of dumbbells stacked next to her.
“Va-voom,” “So sexy,” “Just beautiful…,” “I’ll be your punching bag…” Those were typical among the comments about Laila’s photo. I didn’t disagree with any of the observations or sentiments. It’s just I was disappointed by the lack of respect paid to what she achieved as a boxing professional. This person was instrumental in advancing women’s boxing from mere spectacle to legitimate sport. Though no one would compare her skills to her father’s (who arguably was the greatest), Laila pulled in thousands of fans to the female version of the sport during her sports career.
Laila she was a champion, but was not without her critics. According to sources, other top woman boxers, including Vonda Ward, Ann Wolfe and Leatitia Robinson claimed in interviews that they had challenged Leila many times over the years but she found ways to avoid meeting them in the ring. Press quotes from Leila and her manager claim the reverse. At the same time, some boxing writers and fans repeatedly expressed disappointment in her ducking top contenders throughout her career. Great fighter? Maybe. Great ambassador for the sport? Absolutely.
Ali: champion boxer
Whatever the truth is, that Laila was a media magnet for her sport there is no doubt. Her famous father, solid boxing skills, charismatic personality and good looks all helped bolster women’s boxing. And that’s the problem. There were a number of dimensions to Laila that she should be credited for. Sadly, the first things out of the mouths of men and women are references to her looks.
Remember poor Anna Kournikova, the latter day tennis star? She will forever be known for her legs, rather than her legacy as a former Top 10 WTA player. Though she never won a Women’s Tennis Association tournament, people forget she went 209-129 career. Then again, Anna was always putting herself out there as the steamy sexpot – focusing more on photo shoots than winning championships. Okay, bad example.
Still, it all begs the question: why do statements about looks tend to be the go-to comment when referring to women, celebrity or not? Is it easier to take on a woman’s looks rather than reflect on her as an individual or address her position on a topic? Focusing too much on outward looks belittles the rich distinctiveness that makes up a woman. It’s time to stop marginalizing half the human beings on Earth. Instead, let’s dig a little deeper and celebrate all that women offer. That’s where the real beauty is.

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