Throughout the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the sporting spirit of female athletes has been overshadowed by rampant commercialization of sex in the media.
Immediately after the opening ceremony, TalkSPORT, the world’s biggest sports radio station, featured an article and a video clip titled ‘Top 10 sexiest female olympic athletes in Sochi.’ While some Korean media outlets delivered the article, others uploaded the movie clip, drawing attention from netizens. It was noted that athletes were posing in lingerie or bikini.
Even after the Korean curling team defeated the Russian team, the competition deemed unfinished. The Internet was abuzz about a beauty contest between Lee Seulbi and Anna Sidorova, the Korean and Russian curling team captains. The media was covered with articles portrayed in provocative remarks such as “Who looks better in lingerie and bikini?”
Another sports daily newspaper published an article with a photo shoot featuring the short track speed skater Park Seunghee and her thighs. Some comments read “Park is good enough to be featured on Maxim(men’s magazine),” or “We want other photo shoots of Park!” The photo shoot was taken by “Allure Korea” magazine under the theme of ‘Beautiful body.’ The article gave emphasis on female athletes’ body itself.
The Korean Womenlink activist Lee Yoonso said “The media is commercializing both looks and the body. The fundamental issue is a lack of gender perspectives. Journalists have to reflect on themselves. It is an established fact that female athletes go through strenuous training just like males. Their effort and expertise should be highlighted, not just their looks and body.”
Portal sites have joined the race too. Korea’s largest portal site has set up a section called 'Sochi’s Beauty.' All the articles offered include catchy phrases like “Gracie Gold is a sexy figure skater,” “A++ to assistants by the podium for their looks and body,” and “A Russian Curler, a mankind or a fairy?”
Professor Lee Jaekyoung at the Department of Advertising & PR at Ewha Woman’s University commented “Online journalism has become too provocative, here in Korea. With the demise of traditional newspaper, the Internet has become more influential. The number of hits is directly related to the advertising revenue. Feeling pressured to draw people’s attention, many media outlets have focused on producing sensational and exciting news, losing control over the quality of articles. These articles often lack in gender and human rights perspectives.” She added “The situation is quite different in countries like the U.S. where media outlets monitor one another. We have to open our discussion to solve these problems.”
The media hype over the appearance of female athletes has been there for a long time. Whereas Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva has always been nicknamed “Beauty bird,” Korea’s Cha Yuram has been described as “Uljjang” which means a good-looking person in Korea. All the sports women have fallen prey to the media. Now is the right time for us to skim off the media hype and see the true beauty of female players who have devoted their lives in their field.