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Jul. 22 2009 - 2:07 pm | 360 views | 5 recommendations | 26 comments

Erin Andrews and the ugliness of judging beauty

Erin Andrews

Image by speedye via Flickr

Twice in the last month, readers who were unhappy with my posts on another web site went out of their way to email and tell me that I was ugly.

The first time I responded by joking that I didn’t like my picture, either. The second time, I wrote the emailer that I didn’t deserve the cheap shot, to which he (or she) responded, “If you don’t want comments about your appearance, take down your picture. Nobody would care what you look like if you didn’t put yourself out there like that.”

I was reminded of that when I read about Erin Andrews, the beautiful ESPN reporter whose privacy was violated recently when a peeping tom videotaped her while she was naked in a hotel room. The video wound up on the internet and now her attorney is trying to find the culprit while threatening those who post it.

Some are trying to put the blame on Andrews, pointing out that she has profited greatly from her appearance. Therefore, the argument goes, she should have to put up with this kind of invasion because she asked for it “… by putting herself out there like that.”

So Andrews is punished for being pretty. But somehow she deserves it, because everyone assumes the only reason she was hired by ESPN was her appearance. What people don’t realize is that puts Andrews in a position no male reporter faces on a daily basis: She has to prove herself on every assignment to demonstrate that she is more than a beautiful stand-in for a real reporter.

And at the same time, I am punished for not being pretty. Despite more than 20 years of experience as a sports reporter, I would never be considered for a job like Andrews’s precisely because of my appearance. Even as a print journalist, I face readers who can’t look past my picture to judge me by my words.

It’s 2009. Why are women still being treated like this?


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  1. collapse expand

    It’s about brains, an attribute still invisible to the morons who judge us on our other bits. The Times prints and pays for our copy because we’re smart, no matter what we look like. As it should be! Some of the smartest journos I know, male or female, look and dress like hell.

    The invasion of her privacy is grotesque and the thinking behind this laughable. Yeah, it’s TV and she has to be pretty. But she has to be more than that as well and every woman who’s put up with locker-room BS (as I have covering sports, too) knows it.

  2. collapse expand

    This is a 2009 version of the rape law before women’s lib, when a rape could be justified by looking at a women’s sexual history, dress, or character–”she was asking for it.” Now the violation is privacy (and the deprivation of dignity, respect–if she were a man they’d call it defamation) and the justification is her having a career.

  3. collapse expand

    I think this thread is a bit naive. TV is entertainment. Since men lived in the Lascaux caves, they’ve probably liked looking at beautiful women. As for women, anyone who spends three minutes with them knows they relish judging other females’ looks.

    People like looking at beautiful people. That’s just a fact. I suggest we acknowledge this, and move on.

    By the way, doesn’t this site misspell “barbecue?”

  4. collapse expand

    For starters, I would stop blogging for that other web site if that is the level of reader they get. To even think about what you-or anyone else- looks like in responding to a blog puts that reader somewhere in the range of the typical, American third grader. Morons.

    As for Erin Andrews- again, to suggest that by being on television she “puts herself out there” for what has happened to her and that this makes it okay, would be akin to saying a police officer puts himself or herself in the line of fire so it’s okay to kill a cop. Just plain stupid.

    At the same time, I will add that I don’t think that Erin gets “extra credit” because she has to prove herself more on a story than any other reporter- male or female would. I like Erin. Yes, she’s very attractive but I like her because I think she’s good at her job. There are woman reporting on TV whom I don’t particularly care for, not because they are pretty or not, but because I don’t find them to be as good at their work. Same goes for the guys.

    Erin should neither get points nor subtractions because of her appearance. Like everyone else, she should be judged by her ratings success and her abilities. Period.

  5. collapse expand

    That must be unbelievably frustrating. The internet’s anonymity is cruel, but even on the World Wide Web the cream rises to the top. Those people read your work, and not vice versa.

  6. collapse expand

    I don’t think looks are going to go away as a factor in who gets on screen. If it’s any consolation, many women not particularly noted for their beauty or their youth draw audiences–Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Merle Streep, Rachel Maddow. And there’s a sublimely unattractive, heavily-accented German financial reporter who is so fluent in English that you just can’t get enough of her idiom-a-second delivery. She is so delightful in that she nearly mocks her own unattractiveness.
    Lots of male bimbos out there, let’s remember that.
    Unattractiveness is probably the last frontier of civil rights. But the barrier is coming down.

  7. collapse expand

    Hey Viv, been meaning to ask how your dog is doing? I hope she’s doing well and treatment is proving effective.

  8. collapse expand

    A local bank ran series of billboard ads featuring close up photos of actual customers with the brief line “The Bank of Bob” or “The Bank of Carmen”. The ad of course was trying create the image of a bank that was so very responsive to customer needs, real customers not models, that it seemed like their own bank. One day my daughter and I were stopped at an intersection and we saw one of these ads. It featured the face of a woman seeming to be happy, presumably about the excellent service she was getting at this bank. My daughter, who was about 17 at the time, pointed out that this woman had a small scar under her eyebrow. She did not notice anything else about this ad, it was as if it was the only thing on the ad. I pointed out that this is why models tend to look like mannequins and advertisers use those look alike models instead either real people or models that look like real people, no one would notice the product that is being advertised, they would be focusing on these minor features.

    It is an ugly fact of life that human beings assess each other in total unfair ways based solely on appearance. It is an entirely “natural” way for human beings to behave because it is how our brains are wired. There was a study that came out some years ago where a girl was in what might be considered a somewhat risky situation. Adults near by were far more likely to warn the girl to move away from the risk if they perceived the girl to be attractive as opposed to one that was not so perceived. Now if you would ask these adults “Would you only protect attractive children?” they would uniformly answer no and this no doubt what they truly believed about themselves. They would also no doubt be shocked to discover that their own actions might contradict this belief about themselves.

    We are of course not slaves to our “natural” tendencies, we can learn to recognize that we do this sort of thing and not let it run our lives. We certainly should not try to rationalize or justify this either. It is a problem. However it would foolish not recognize that this is how our brains assess other people, as unattractive as that may be.

  9. collapse expand

    I want to thank everyone for their kind comments. I’ve been in the business long enough to have heard just about everything, so I don’t take seriously or dwell on the “ugly” comments. I just thought it was interesting juxtaposed with Andrews and some of the absurd criticism of her.

    Maybe it’s inevitable and “natural” that we judge others by their appearance. But I’m focusing specifically on sports journalism, where there is a clear and demonstrable double standard for men and women.

    It’s not right that Andrews’s appearance is used against her. It’s not right that my appearance is used against me. Seriously, is it ever about appearance when it comes to men in sports broadcasting? Of course not. They are judged by what they say and do. It should be the same for women.

  10. collapse expand

    As long as sports are mostly watched by men and as long as men are visually-oriented, sexually-provocative/attractive women will dominate. And that’s probably a very long time. Still, there probably is plenty of room for women-athlete commentators of modest looks–Billie Jean King was probably the first. Women-jock commentators can compete with men-jock commentators. Attractive, articulate women-jock commentators and attractive, articulate men-jock commentators will do best.

  11. collapse expand

    Sports journalism is, probably even more than any other beat, testosterone-fueled and women reporters on that beat do have to fight hard for respect. I was sent by a major paper to cover the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp; every other (male) reporter there got a press kit and access to the players. Not I, the only woman in the place except for the team secretary. I wrote a piece anyway, but this was clearly meant to shake and intimidate me. While covering sail racing, some of the guys I interviewed would lie to me, assuming I didn’t know any better.

    The day they start video-ing male sportscasters through their keyholes, yeah, we’ve become equal. Equally degraded.

    No matter what Andrews covers, or what she looks like, this is a crappy way to treat any woman.

    • collapse expand

      Did the sailboys lie to you because you were a woman or because they thought you a landlubber of whatever gender? How would you know?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Of course what happened to Erin is terrible, but I find it ironic to hear other female sports reporters express their indignation that one of their own has suffered such an invasion of privacy. I’m sorry, when did the right to privacy become so valuable to you? You are the women who have chosen a profession that brings you into locker rooms full of naked professional male athletes. I guess this sacred right to privacy and modesty is highly subjective.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  12. collapse expand

    The only sport I watch on TV is NBA basketball, but I see Doris Burke and Cheryl Miller working as sideline reporters, and occasionally Nancy Lieberman as an analyst. Michele Tafoya also had an NBA gig until recently. They’re all perfectly normal-looking middle-aged women, and they don’t seem to have any problems being accepted as credible sports reporters.

  13. collapse expand

    “It’s 2009. Why are women still being treated like this?”

    Because women allow themselves to be treated like this. Women dont want to be judged by their looks, but everywhere you turn is advertising with beautiful women promoting ways to be more beautiful. Are they being forced to do these commercials or photo shoots? Nope. They do it willingly and at the expense of other women.

    Men arent going to change. Men arent going to get together and say lets stop ogling and judging women based on their looks. That change has to come from women when they finally band together and stop slathering on the makeup and wearing clothing that accentuates their assets. Stop telling us men that looks are important. You want change? Stop waiting for it to happen and start doing something about it. Stop blaming men and men alone for this. We are doing what people expect of us.

    What happened to Erin Andrews is despicable and totally beyond the line of acceptable behavior. But who didnt think it would get to this point with the amount of attention she and other attractive female sports reporters get? IT should be about the quality of work one does. It shouldnt be about what someone looks like.

    When one lowers themselves to bashing the person over their looks instead of bashing them over their ideas, they have proven that they have nothing relevant to add to the conversation. Im not sure where you saw people saying EA deserved this. All i’ve seen is plenty of people condemning this, men and women.

  14. collapse expand

    This is really a sickening situation. Erin Andrews really deserved better than this. I mean, she wasn’t even allowed privacy in her own hotel room.

    Taking those shots was an invasion of privacy, pure and simple.

  15. collapse expand

    Makes one think of Islam (not the Taliban’s form of it) as a form of liberation theology. Modesty is promoted and women pray in the back of the room for a pretty practical reason.

  16. collapse expand

    I have to say that your article was well written and very thought provoking. As far as your looks, I don’t care what you look like, as long as you keep writing articles like this…

  17. collapse expand

    When looks are all you’ve got, then you end up with Miss Teen South Carolina and Sarah Palin!

    Not being attractive means trying harder, working for everything you get, and appreciating it more. It makes you tougher regarding taking criticism and also more sympathetic toward others when they are having bad times.

    I think attractive people get bored with how easily things come to them. I’ll never be bored, and that’s a blessing in disguise.

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C., a Yankee transplant in a Bible belt town that is home to Billy Graham, TARP-infused banks, stock-car racing and that signature Southern culinary abomination: Barbeque.

    I write mostly about sports as a regular contributor to The New York Times. I was a staff writer at the Detroit Free Press, Hartford Courant and other newspapers. Over the years, I have written for many publications and Web sites, covering everything from the Super Bowl to the Daytona 500. When it comes to sports, I am usually irreverent, occasionally indignant and sometimes intolerant of folks who take this form of entertainment too seriously. It's supposed to be a game, you know.

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