Local Athlete Speaks Out About The Objectification Of Women In Sport

Maggie Denys basketball
Maggie Denys with the University of Windsor Lancers Women’s basketball team – Photo by Kevin Jarrold

Women in sport face not only opponents on the ice, field, or court, but they face opposition off the field. Too often, this opposition comes from men and media in the form of objectification and sexualization.

These are the issues Chatham’s Maggie Denys, a star basketball player for the University of Windsor is speaking out about.

Denys herself has struggled with body image issues after facing direct scrutiny, and is speaking out about the gender stereotypes, objectification, and online harassment women in sport face, and the impacts it can have on mental health.

“Through my years of playing, and I know other women have endured the same, I’ve with body image. Women are highly judged on their physical appearance to a higher degree than men, especially through sport,” Denys said, echoing results found by many researches in recent years.

But you don’t need to be an academic scholar to see this, you can simply pick up a device and look at social media.

“If you need an example of this, go to an Instagram post about a professional female athlete and the comments will likely be about gender stereotypes or their body.”

Denys has been an elite basketball player her entire life, and as she has aged, she has experienced peoples criticism of her body.

“In my own experience, I have gained and lost weight in short periods of time and usually people point it out right away. There were times when I was told that I looked incredibly healthy and fit, when my habits at the time were not healthy at all. I was not eating properly and not getting enough sleep. People look back at photos from my grade 11 and 12 years to now and the usual first comment is about my weight, “Maggie you lost weight in this part of your body” or “I can tell that you are working out more because you look thinner.”

“I have acknowledged that I have lost weight and that my body is changing, but I have become so self conscious about my body because of these consistent comments that they are not and do not come across as compliments. They serve as constant reminders that my body still is not necessarily “perfect yet” and that there are women that I apparently must compare myself to and compete with in the realm of body image.”

For women and girls in sport, this internalization of public comments and criticism about their bodies, rather than simply about their athletic pursuits, can lead to mental health issues. Denys bravely admits, that she has struggled through this culture of criticism directed toward women, and herself.

“When individuals comment on your appearance and then correlate it to your performance in sport, this is very mentally draining. You begin to compare your body to others and how their body performs compared to yours. I am a huge advocate for mental health awareness and always talk about how taking care of oneself is a priority in life, and if I am encouraging others to go seek help, I must do the same for myself. To be vulnerable is hard, but in all honesty, I still struggle with my body image today,” Denys said.

“I read the degrading comments under the posts of women who do and do not compete in sport on social media and a lot of times internalize it. When someone stares at me, I feel uncomfortable because in the back of my head I think about the ways they could be judging my body. I am not even comfortable receiving hugs because I am afraid that someone will comment on my body. I am finding ways to embrace and love my body, but it has been hard.”

That personal journey for Denys, who is a graduate of Southwest Academy in London, has involved seeking help, and the development boundaries in relationships, and building healthy social supports of mentors. Denys also believes in the value of open communication with trusted individuals, which can often in sports be teammates.

“To women who are reading this especially the younger girls beginning to take sports seriously, I would advocate the importance of your environment in terms of the people you allow in your life and stress the significance of having the ability to set boundaries with these individuals,” she said. “It is important to remember that at the end of the day your body only serves yourself so take care of it.”

In a world filled with social media, and where athletes and women outside of sport still struggle for equal opportunities, much work still has to be done.

This is why Maggie Denys feels it’s important to stand up against oppressors, to call this misogyny through the sexualization and objectification of women in sport what it is…and to call out those responsible.

“When you really begin to listen sincerely to the way people talk, you will be amazed about how often the objectification of women’s bodies is brought up,” said Denys. “There have been times when I may have headphones in but with no music, and you sit there and listen to the way people talk when they think no one is listening, it is repulsive. I have heard male role models such as male coaches who preach on their social media and even to my face about uplifting women’s sports beyond gender stereotypes and eliminating the sexualization of female bodies, yet a more genuine side of them comes out when they are with their players or even fellow coaches. The locker room talk comes out and everything they have addressed to outside individuals about has now been taken away.”

She hears you, and she sees you, as so many other young women’s athletes are becoming comfortable and empowered enough to say.

“As a woman, I hear you and I see you, and to me that is unacceptable because you are the leader of the upcoming generation and you are teaching them that it is okay to participate in such talk.”

For Denys, the approach men in the sporting world, and in the community at large have treated her, and those around her has left a lasting impact. It has changed the way she lives and approaches the world.

“Usually when people first meet me, men especially, they often state that I am scary, or they may use slurs that are used against women. I come off as intimidating or scary because that is my defense mechanism. I am so used to hearing comments that sexualize and objectify women in my life or even myself, and I find that the only way I get will be taken seriously as a woman and as an athlete is if I am not as approachable.”

But that’s not who Denys is. She’s kind, she’s talented, she is strong, she is powerful, she is intelligent. And she’s not taking it anymore.

“I am a very kind, smart, talkative, and sensitive individual, but I feel as if I do not protect that side of myself, I become more vulnerable to nonsense. I usually say, you must earn my respect just as much as I must earn yours, and I will forever hold onto that.”

One thing is certain, when young athletes need a strong role model to look at athletically, and in terms of off court character, they can look to University of Windsor Lancers basketball player, Maggie Denys.

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