Illustration for ESPN The Undefeated: Artists look at the struggle of the black female athlete

Back in June, a piece of mine was published for ESPN The Undefeated which you can view here. I really enjoyed working on it since it was a pretty open project where they asked women of color for their thoughts on how these athletes are portrayed.

The Undefeated commissioned a study by Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication on the history of black women in athletics and how racist stigmas and stereotypes have affected their advancement. When I was selected as one of the artists, I thought it would be ideal to also share my story. If you know me personally, you are aware that I’m an avid backer of representation everywhere—all about creating no ceilings (shatter them all). I love sports and I love social media. I get very motivated by the athletes that I follow and I resonate with others who live life unfiltered. It truly annoys me when people create alternate realities of what is real life. We strive for perfection but never share those stories of grit to overcome our challenges. It also annoys me (like seriously pisses me off) when other women comment on body image. I’ve seen my body change so much from since I was a kid to today (in its hilarity of a science project). I embraced this because I was never considered an athlete and crushing these challenges makes me feel like I can take on anything. Sports teaches you so much. I want everyone to learn that. So many seemingly confident women bring down each other with their lack of confidence. I was called a man, I was encouraged to not bulk up, I was asked to straighten my hair… and my rebellious nature of just being myself made me much happier than fitting a mold. The piece that I submitted was to question which I would rather. The filtered likes or the accomplishments and accolades in real life unfiltered. It also took me this long to realize that racist stigmas and stereotypes have encouraged women to attack each other on looks and the belief of what desire should look like. We spend too long of our lifetime focusing on those images.

I’ve attached the other pieces I decided not to go with but they also tell their own stories after entry that I submitted. Here’s my submitted piece and blurb:

My body has gone through various transformations since my early 20s, and while I was accepting everything it was doing, others around me were critiquing. I was called a man, asked to dress like a girl, be more feminine, and also to change my hair.

I have to admit that those comments hurt. I ignored them mostly because, at first glance, people don’t know that I’ve run 10 marathons and six ultramarathons. At one point, I was able to squat 315 pounds. I remember running my first marathon and a woman twice my size made it look effortless while I was struggling. I remembered thinking that I would love to know how she made it look so easy more than 20 miles in. I learned the value of training for those distances, which made me happy.

Being the body that others wanted didn’t make me happy. Now that I’m in my early 30s, I’m allowing my body to do what it wants. It took a while to achieve this mindset. It’s truly incredible what my body can do. Right now, I’m training for a half Ironman. While I get motivated by seeing fellow athletes training in their online highlight reels, it took me a while to focus on the unfiltered versions of true grit that make us what we are. I do realize that traditionally “pretty women” get the likes. However, I don’t think we are meant to be photoshopped to fit that criteria if we are not. While the media was teaching me to focus on their idea of beauty, I turned to incredible athletes like Serena Williams, who seems to constantly have to explain her existence, even if she’s arguably the greatest athlete of all time. To me, Serena demonstrates her femininity and also embraces what her body is doing. I’m doing the same.

Pieces that weren’t submitted:

Posted in News

Written by

I am a marketing professional, brand specialist, adrenaline seeker, inspirer, Caribbean Islander, Sr. Art Director/Dev, Published Illustrator, Triathlete, Ultramarathoner (furthest 50 miles) and Marathoner (who has completed over 15 distances), 2x Ragnar finisher and 2x Tough Mudders finisher and I blog about my #commuteart here.

Website: http://www.jerlynthomas.com/

Leave a Reply