Misleading Aesthetic Norms of Beauty: Perceptual Sexism in Elite Women's Sports

In Sherri Irvin (ed.), Body Aesthetics. Oxford University Press. pp. 192-221 (2016)
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The history of gender challenges faced by women in elite sports is fraught with controversy and injustice. These athletes' unique physical beauty creates what appears to be a paradox yet is, in fact, scientifically predictable. Intense training for the highest levels of competition leads to unique bodily strength and rare beauty associated with specific anatomic changes, leading top athletes to be singled out as exceptions from their gender and even excluded from competing. Authorities like the IOC and IAF, as well as coaches and fellow athletes, use traditional and sometimes racialized aesthetic norms as the basis for ungrounded judgments of "gender mis-identity." Misjudging the gender identity of elite athletes exemplifies a biased cognitive framework, a form of erroneous and damaging categorical perception that we call "perceptual sexism." We argue that perceptual sexism has a long history within aesthetic and competitive realms and is still perpetuated by popular culture. Correcting this will reduce injustices created by gender identity controversies.
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