Liz Cambage and the perverse need to reduce powerful women to their size

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Think, first of all, from a person you don’t likeor even despise, if you are the contemptuous type. Now think about the cruelest thing you could say to that person, the phrase or two that you know would cut off their bone marrow, take them out on their knees, get the air out of their lungs.

If you think of a woman, there is a good chance that you are making an insult about her weight, imagining the look on her face when you ask her if she gained a few pounds in her forties or mention the fat. on the back of His arms. This is a guaranteed boost, because for many women, no matter how often we are told that our value isn’t limited to how we look, we always default to choosing a dress size or a number on a scale. . We can be bright, successful, in the happiest relationship. But we’ll be shot down by a mention of fat.

And that’s why Curt Miller deserved every penny of his $ 10,000 fine, every second of his one-game suspension, for telling an official on Sunday that opposing center Liz Cambage weighed 300 pounds.

Now, I’m not saying the Connecticut Sun coach went through an extended calculation as he discussed an appeal with umpires and poked fun at Cambage’s size to prove his point. But he had to know what he said was a low blow, lower still because he’s a man, and Cambage, of course, is a woman. She’s a 6-foot-8, 235-pound woman who is also a model, holds the WNBA single-game scoring record and is a three-time All-Star. She is an example to little girls all over the world, little girls who maybe feel too short or too tall or if they are lucky, that’s fine, but who will internalize that comment, all those 300 pounds of insult. .

There’s also a bigger problem at play here: the problem of how we talk about athletes without even an ounce of humanity. An analyst calls a perspective project a freak of nature instead of exhibiting the skills that make it unique. A manager tells media his best hitter, a 28-year-old adult, deserves to be spanked for swinging on ground he should have taken. A fan yells at a struggling catcher (a struggling point guard, a struggling catcher, a struggling striker, a struggling defender) that he’s a bum, a bum who doesn’t deserve a job. It is as if we forget that these are also people who do their best and who operate with limits, who might flinch at our ill will. We channel our frustrations into these games, and they turn into tribalism and meanness and utter contempt for the athlete on the other side of the insult.

But what Miller said about Cambage goes even deeper into the daily harshness of the sport. It was not a trashy speech. Not even close. He had sharper beards, more insidious implications. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, rates of eating disorders in women are twice as high as in men. For men, size often equates to potency. But for women, it’s usually portrayed as a stain on our character. We are better if we are smaller. When I was 12, I barely ate for several months trying to deflate a chubby set of cheeks and look more like the smiley faces on magazine covers at the grocery store. So I can’t help but think of all the 12 year olds watching today, seeing Liz Cambage and hearing Curt Miller and wondering what they should believe.

And then, of course, there is the power dynamic: coach to player, male to female. Miller’s job is to lead, and instead, he chooses to tear down. He chose to add to the worst conversation in women’s sport, where style often trumps substance. Appearances have an unreasonable value and women are sexualized, classified for their warmth, their sensuality, the choice of outfit. If you’re not conventionally sexy, not conventionally sexy, not unconventionally petite, well, good luck. Good luck getting approval deals. Good luck preventing an opposing coach from cutting you off from the sideline.

Hours after Miller said what he said, Cambage posted a video on Instagram. She called the trainer “small” and said she had just weighed herself, that she was proud of the number on the scale. She has the last wordexcept I hope that’s not it. I hope this ordeal can help shift the conversation in women’s sports away from appearances and stereotypes and the perverse need to shrink powerful women to the waist.

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