By: Maya Beninteso, SFU Student
Content warning: Mention of eating disorders
It’s 2021 and, to be completely honest, I am fed up with the inequities faced by female athletes. If you have ever seen the comment section on Instagram accounts of professional female athletes, you know exactly what I mean. As an athlete, I can, unfortunately, attest to the additional financial, physical, and mental challenges that accompany being a woman in this field.
For instance, in Canada, there is a wage gap between cis men and cis women, but this phenomenon is not exclusive to traditional careers. This wage gap is even worse in the world of professional sports. For instance, let’s compare the salaries of the highest-paid National Basketball Association (NBA) player and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players, respectively.
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry is being paid a little over $43 million for the 2020–21 season. In contrast, the highest-paid WNBA players, like Elena Delle Donne and DeWanna Bonner, made only $221,450 for the 2020–21 season. For those of you who don’t want to do the math, do not fret, I’ve done it for you: Curry makes approximately 194 times more than his female counterparts. Want another number? Curry makes approximately $41 million more than all seven of the highest-paid WNBA players combined (and I rounded that number down). That is ridiculous.
Additionally, cis women experience issues with body image; according to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, 80%–90% of women do not like the way they look, and being a cis woman athlete only exacerbates this issue. These athletes have to endure an absurd double standard because they are seen as women before they are athletes and are pressured to be dainty and feminine. More muscular women are perceived as “manly,” even if being muscular is needed for their respective sport.
If female athletes were to conform to a dainty and “feminine” body type, they either would not be able to sustain rigorous training, or their physicality would not be up to their given sport’s standards. This makes for a depressing cycle of never being up to par with one of the aforementioned standards. In short, we can never win.
Being an athlete as a woman has resulted in some of the most mentally trying times of my life. It has always been a constant battle between listening to my declining mental health or continuing training out of fear of regressing skill-wise. With that said, it is not surprising that mental illnesses have a higher prevalence amongst female athletes. A study of 465 Division I female athletes found that almost 30% demonstrated signs and symptoms of depression.
Women in sport are not only susceptible to depression, but a myriad of other mental health risks. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, disordered eating impacts an estimated 62% of female athletes in aesthetic (dance, gymnastics, etc.) and weight-class sports (horse racing, wrestling, etc.). Additionally, they are 35% more likely to develop anorexia nervosa and 58% more likely to develop bulimia nervosa.
Starting the conversation on the pay gap, body image, and mental health of cis women athletes is crucial in making sure they are treated fairly. An athlete’s gender should have no impact on how much they are paid or how they are treated. These conversations are necessary to make sure all athletes, regardless of gender, have the same opportunities.
If you are struggling with any of the mental health concerns, help is available and recovery is possible. As someone who has gone through the pits of poor mental health, recovery was tough but worth it in every way.
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