Danica Patrick: Too Sexy to Be a Role Model?

Danica Patrick- Sports Illustrated, photographer; Ben Watts

Blog pal, Amy Jussel, of Shaping Youth is calling for my response on the tough topic of Danica Patrick, race car champion.

And a personal invitation for our own Dr. Robyn Silverman at Kiss My Assets, (our newest body image expert) to share her input too (see her new body image data from this week’s stat round-up linked above and always in our sidebar)

Don’t be shy…or concerned you’ll offend me, even you board advisors, ok? As Sharon and I have already proved, we can ‘agree to disagree’ now and then and still raise vital awareness and uncork some doozies of a conversation…

So what d’ya say?

Here’s part of the scoop from the Shaping Youth Blog:

Danica Patrick has sparked a mini-debate among my own advisory board (particularly this exchange between Dr. Sharon Lamb and Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown of Packaging Girlhood and yours truly)…not for her hard-fought win of course, but for her mixed messages as a role model for girls which will no doubt accelerate even faster than a final flag lap in an Indy race.

So here’s the deal…

indycarseriescolorjf7.gifNo question Danica Patrick’s racecar driving smacks of bold, gutsy, ‘believe in yourself’ confidence with style and substance of a ‘one girl revolution’ (that’s one of the more poignantly ironic music tracks on her website that caught my ear as a deeper subtext of her public persona) but overall, I personally feel the mixed messages of self-objectification and body hawking are enough to give many girls whiplash.

My own daughter’s comment on her photos (which pop up first in her Google name search) and her Go Daddy “beaver” ad called Exposure nixed from the Superbowl line-up as inappropriate was this retort, (unprompted, honest!)

danika-patrick2.jpgDanica’s ad choices are her own, most certainly, but her ‘role model’ caché will no doubt go ‘ka-ching’ and be even more visible to girls with this victory, and this concerns me.

If she keeps up the objectification cues in her new endorsement deals, I’m going to go really, really basic here…and ask at the very core:

Here’s our play by play commentary…with one more added query:

dann4.jpgSince media’s tendency is to either herald or marginalize public figures without looking at the surround sound snapshot of the overall media and cultural landscape (not to mention how it’s all landing on kids) shouldn’t role models themselves be held accountable for their own actions too, rather than masked under the guise of media and marketing as the big bad wolf?


So here’s my (Dr. Robyn’s) response:

You might think I would have an immediate and solid answer for this problem since I’m a body image expert. However, I’m also all about girls challenging stereotypes and ripping the doors and glass ceiling off of male-dominated activities.

So, I don’t have only one feeling about this situation. I am torn like any woman would be who works for the protection and advancement of positive youth development. On the one hand, you have the sexualization of women so that the celebrity has more market appeal. Yes, yuck. As a body image specialist, I really hate to see it. It turns my stomach and gets me angry that this is the natural progression of things when it comes to great sports women in the media. On the other hand, you have the strength and power of an amazing triumphant woman highlighted and getting some great attention. As an advocate for girls, I love that part.

In the martial arts world, Gina Carano is being treated in much the same way. On the one hand, her body has been “pinned up” and featured to bring market appeal to Mixed Martial Arts. She’s pictured like a ring girl instead of a fighter. On the other hand, her star power makes people take notice of her strength and power in a typically male-oriented world. It says to girls, “You can do anything—just as good, if not better, than the boys.” I pray that this is the overarching message that is sent out loud and clear. Yes, that part, I have to say, I like a whole lot.

So what’s the deal? Do these women really need to get “sexed up” to draw appeal and attention? Oh boy. In today’s world, right now, we know the score. Advertisers don’t cover women in sports much as it is—and when they do, well, you can see how they slant things. It’s too bad, since study after study shows that girls in sports glean great benefits.

I hate to say it, but sometimes we need to bring people through “their” door (i.e. “look at me, I’m hot”) to get them to go through “ours” (“look at me, I’m a strong, successful woman, and you can be too”).

The message that says “girls can survive and thrive in a male-dominated field” is so important and our girls may not hear it as loudly if the star doesn’t get the “media makeover” that seems a requirement these days. I know—this is the problem at hand. Girls want so badly to associate with these beautiful stars and my hope is that while they may first be stunned by the beauty and star appeal, they may second, fall in love with the strength, courage, and power that it took to get to the top. In this case, when they think of these women, they exchange this sexualized look for this message of triumph, and this sexualized look for this message of perseverance.

Given that the “hubba hubba” messages are not going to stop anytime soon—I’ll take the good stuff when I can get it…even if I wince a little (or maybe a lot) when greatness is served with a pink teddy bear wearing red lipstick, patent leather, and a way-too sassy attitude. My hope is that the girls peel away the fluff and get to the guts.

And that’s my take on it.


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