Over a Beer: Why Does Mountain Biking Still Have Podium Girls?!

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Photo: Richard Masoner, via the Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Richard Masoner, via the Flickr Creative Commons

While browsing through a major mountain bike brand’s media photo gallery, I came across a disturbing set of photos which cropped out the faces of several women in favor of focusing on their legs and miniskirts. They stood out to me since they didn’t appear to have anything to do with mountain biking.

Based on the context of the other photos–champions on the podium–I concluded that these must be podium girls. However, a few things stood out to me about these photos:

  1. The podium girls don’t just “happen” to be in the image, like the one featured above–they’re the subject of these images.
  2. Furthermore, these aren’t innocuous images of women smiling. In the first image, the heads of these ladies are cropped out, focusing solely on their bodies. The second image was as close to an up skirt photograph as one can get without being pornographic.

We chose not to include the specific images in this article.

Maybe I haven’t had enough exposure to podium girls to become desensitized, but in my opinion, I just don’t think this is acceptable.

From the outside looking in, here’s the message that the existence of podium girls, and photos such as these, are sending to men like me:

“These women are prizes, because they deliver prizes to strong, talented men. If only you can become a strong, talented man, you’ll also get to have women like these as prizes.”

Of course the racers don’t actually receive the women themselves as prizes, and they have very little interaction with them: “The podium girls are only allowed very limited interaction with the riders; they can present prizes and jerseys, help the riders put the jerseys on, and kiss the riders on their cheeks, but are not allowed to talk with them.” (Source) However, the objectification in the images above is impossible to ignore, and this messaging, while it may not be verbalized, is definitely real.

I’m a dude, and I don’t pretend to know how sexism makes women feel like. But for myself, I’m sick of this shit, and disgusted by the level of de-humanization found in the images I saw, and the entire concept of parading attractive women around for sex appeal. (See also: Interbike and Eurobike booth babes.) While plenty of ex-podium girls have argued for the continuation of this tradition (see the Wikipedia article),  I honestly don’t see what podium girls add to the post-race celebration, aside from eye candy for the viewers.

This problem has been editorialized before, including the excellent piece in The Guardian, titled “Cycling needs to lose its ‘podium girls,’” by Suze Clemitson. I’m not going to try to replicate her work here, or even build a full-fledged argument against the existence of podium girls.

Rather, I simply want to add my voice to this issue that is raging in the mountain biking world. Right here, right now, I’m publicly standing up and saying, “The de-humanizing objectification of women is not acceptable, and it needs to stop.”

There are numerous voices in mountain biking speaking out against sexism in the sport. Most of them are women. But I know plenty of guys who are not “OK” with this crap going on in our sport, and who want mountain biking to be a positive community that embraces everyone with open arms, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation… you name it. I’m one of them. But if the sport continues to objectify women in this way, we’re simply not treating women in a way that says they’re a valued and an important part of our community.

Let’s change this.

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