The treatment of young female athletes by Nike is a prime example of manipulating women into believing they have a spot at the table when, in reality, they are simply being exploited to the advantage of those in power.
Nike’s track team, the Oregon Project, does nothing other than transform women with boundless potential and a drive to succeed into a shadow of the athlete they were prior to joining the team. The process of weighing the women in front of each other, implementing excessive dietary restrictions and speaking ill of the women in front of their teammates only serves to degrade the athletes, thus inhibiting their ability to perform to their fullest potential.
The emphasis put on women’s bodies does not start and end on the runway, where models are frequently encouraged to starve themselves in order to be deemed attractive. While this is a prevalent issue, the beauty standards of which women are held are so deeply rooted in our society that they spans across occupations, from the fashion industry all the way to women’s sports.
If Nike genuinely cared about the wellbeing and performance of the women they sponsor, they would have promoted the nurturing of their bodies rather than watching as the women develop eating disorders and eventually lose all of their motivation and passion for the sport. Had Nike cared, this may have never happened; instead the company treats these women as objects, present only for the company’s advancement and discarded as soon as they no longer served the purpose of garnering excitement from the public because someone “better” comes along.
Nike is more focused on making sure that their female athletes look good on the cover of a magazine than helping them perform well in their athletic careers. To make matters worse, the prestige of Nike allows them to not only get away with blatant exploitation but to also keep the women from speaking out against the abusive behavior, as this is one of the only ways the athletes can gain exposure and financial success.
Not only are the practices that are implemented egregious for any person, but it overwhelmingly targets women, which will continue to hold them back from being as successful as their male counterparts. No one cares if an NFL player has a perfect physique or is indistinguishable between being a model or a professional athlete. As long as he is doing what he is paid to do, the way he looks does not matter.
In the case of women, they not only have to be outstanding athletes but also attractive and marketable. They have to check way more boxes than men, but the issue is that the criteria they have to simultaneously meet are working against each other, which means the system is working against the women.
To be a good athlete, a person has to eat a balanced diet – which means not looking like a runway model. To be acknowledged as a good athlete, however, a woman must develop habits contrary to that in order to look like the models plastered on magazines, which will, in turn, hinder her ability to be a good athlete. It is a double-edged sword that is used to hold women down and make them second to men in all areas of life.