Best of Both Worlds

Rhythmic Gymnastics is a sport that has both male gymnasts and female gymnasts. However, the characteristics that are associated with the sport draw more attention on women gymnasts. The sport itself, stereotypically, is associated with having mainly feminine characteristics that are embedded in the sport through the use of wardrobe, performance style, and figure. I was greeted with hundreds of pictures of women rhythmic gymnasts but could only find a few male rhythmic gymnasts when I searched rhythmic gymnastics into different search engines. The lean towards rhythmic gymnastics being a sport only for women needs to start changing. One of the key reasons why rhythmic gymnastics is not popular amongst males is because the sport is seen to be a girly sport for women instead of what men need and want, which is a “real sport.” Using the image that I have chosen, I will demonstrate the different ways in which rhythmic gymnastics displays both qualities that can be viewed as masculine and feminine.  The masculine qualities that rhythmic gymnastics is said to lack includes toned muscles that are created through rigorous practice, the competitiveness of the sport, and the challenging physical aspect of the sport. The idea of there being a lack of competitiveness in rhythmic gymnastics can date back to “the nineteenth-century [when] sportswoman was not encouraged to compete as her male counterparts were, but to strive against herself using her own performance as an index of health” (226). The notion that females aren’t as competitive as males. The feminine qualities that are associated with the sport are predominantly about the body and the aesthetically pleasing aspect of rhythmic gymnastics, which includes wardrobe and performance style.



One of the biggest reasons, people disregard rhythmic gymnastics as a sport is because of its “lack of athleticism.” The image that I have chosen contradicts this idea. The shadows within the image help bring attention to her toned and muscular body. The lines on her calves draw attention to her muscular build. Thedifferent limbs that are more visible within the image create two lines that cross each other. The line that her legs make can be seen as one line and the line her arms make can be seen asthe other. It is evident that she did not just simply jump or practice for one day to get that perfect formation. The physical parts of her body, which are usually sexualized, blend with the background. In Heywood’s “Producing Girls Empire, sport, and the neoliberal body” she expands on “the image of the female athletes and their ideal bodies” and how that image was used to sell. The image of females using their bodies within sports to sell the sport rather than to appeal to the audience through actual sporting was common in the past and still exists today. The image I have chosen reinforces the idea that rhythmic gymnastics is not about selling the sport by sexualizing the body. The absence of her breasts and butt allow for the audience to focus more on her muscular build and form. The image serves to draw focus on the sport rather than the gender of the person doing the sport. Although it is still obvious that she is a woman rhythmic gymnast, I believe that this image plays a different role in showing the sport as not a gender specific sport but rather a sport that requires great practice in order to achieve the extraordinary form of the gymnast.

Another aspect of this image that is interesting is that it can still be seen as aesthetically pleasing without the gymnast’s outstanding and colorful leotard. The ribbon that the gymnast is using, that turns into feathers, can also be a point of aesthetic focus. The white ribbon and white feathers contrast greatly with the black background. The ribbon actually catches the viewer’s attention first because of its great contrast with the background. Many of the aesthetically pleasing aspects of the sport is found in the women doing the sport, but in this image the sport is still seen as aesthetically pleasing even without the focus on the gymnast. The lines that are created through her limbs compliment the ribbon that makes a semi circle around her.

Rhythmic gymnastics is not only a sport that has feminine qualities but also has masculine qualities making it a sport that can appeal to both genders. The masculine qualities of having great athleticism and muscular build do not mean that the performances have to be tough or exclude the grace associated with the sport. Instead, there are different ways of identifying masculine traits such as the rigor associated with the sport and the muscular build that arises from the practice. Even though rhythmic gymnasts have performances that are graceful and beautiful, the muscular build and toned body cannot be achieved without the rigorous practice that is required in every sport. Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport that requires both rigorous practice and exceptional performance.

Green, Harvey. “Living the Strenuous Life,” Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport and American Society. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986, 219-258.

Heywood, Leslie. “Producing Girls: Empire, Sport, and the Neoliberal Body” in Physical Culture, Power, and the Body, London: Routledge, 2007, 101-120.

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1 Response to Best of Both Worlds

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    I like that you have chosen an image that has such interesting color contrast and ambiguity, especially compared to the more common images of the sport. You present good evidence from the image to support your argument. I would ask to whom you are referring to when you mention that rhythmic gymnastics is said to lack masculine qualities. Who says this? This image also seems to represent the dilemma of the athletic woman that Heywood discusses in that it is masculine, and yet still feminine. What do you make of this? Given Heywood’s argument, do you think this image opens up a space for masculinity and/or men in the sport?

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