Andrew Edgar on the homogenisation of beauty in sport

In anticipation of our third workshop on 'the globalisation of beauty', we asked our speakers and participants to consider whether conceptions of beauty are becoming more global. Here Andrew Edgar, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Cardiff, addresses this question from his own specialism in the philosophy of sport.

Question: Is it still the case that there are significant cultural differences in dominant beauty norms and ideals or are beauty norms becoming increasingly homogenised and global? If so what are the drivers of this? Is it a westernised norm? Are there key ethical, legal or practices issues which arise in this context?

Addressing this question from my own specialism of the philosophy of sport, I would suggest that there is an identifiable process of homogenisation in the shaping of the ideal athletic body.  Over the  second half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first, the muscle definition of both the male and female athlete's body, across many sports, has increased.  This may be due, in part, to the implementation of rationalised and scientific training methods across professional sport, but that in itself may be serving to normalise an aesthetic valuation of the body.  Muscle definition is perceived as being more expressive of what it is to be an athlete, the rationalised body being at once more powerful and more beautiful.  Crucially, changes in sporting clothing also lead to this athletic body being displayed more openly.  Consider the running kit of female track athletes and most obviously the uniforms of female beach volleyball players, or the skin tight shirts worn by male rugby and soccer players.  Ethically, the promotion of this as an ideal body shape raises concerns in the pressure to conformity that it may imply, and the promotion of a deceptive image of the health body.  (However, it may be noted that there remain a few significant exceptions to this homogenisation.  New York Yankees' pitcher C.C. Sabathia's 6'7'' and 290 lbs are worth a second look.)

If you would like to contribute on this topic and write a post for us please email Ruth Wareham


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