Challengers missed an opportunity to spotlight female athletes’ bodies

It’s difficult not to think about Tashi Duncan’s (Zendaya) body while watching Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers. When we’re first introduced to the teen tennis star, she walks onto the court in a white Adidas tennis dress that hugs her body perfectly. Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor) ogle at her as the wind blows one side of her skirt up, revealing a glimpse of her right butt cheek. After her match, we again watch Art and Patrick gaze at Tashi while she dances at her Adidas party in a blue dress accentuating her slim frame. There are multiple moments like this in the film where we’re made to gawk (just like Art and Patrick) at Tashi’s body and how it moves. 

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this while watching Challengers. Countless people have remarked on Zendaya’s body being “tea” on X and claimed they would start working out after seeing her in the film. But while watching Challengers, I wondered why Tashi’s body didn’t resemble other young tennis stars we know from real life. From Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka to the young Serena and Venus Williams (all women who helped shape the character of Tashi), these sportswomen have a more muscular and broader physique than Tashi, challenging idealised notions about what women should look like. Even though Zendaya’s portrayal of Tashi was impressive, Challengers would have been more interesting, both visually and textually, if the object of Art and Patrick’s desires was a woman who stood in opposition to idealised femininity rather than conforms to it, as so many women in sport do.

This is why movies like Love Lies Bleeding, as Alex Rigotti writes in their recent feature for Dazed Beauty, are so exciting. The erotic thriller written by Rose Glass centres around a queer relationship between bodybuilder Jackie (Katy M O’Brien) and gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) and follows them as they get tangled up with Lou’s criminal family. Jackie is the main object of desire in Love Lies Bleeding, with her ripped, muscular body, sculpted six-pack and beefy arms showcased in multicoloured hues. She is, as Rigotti writes, “antithetical to the traits often considered ’feminine’ under the patriarchy,” and yet we can’t take our eyes off of her. While bodybuilding is way more complicated than being a revolutionary feminist act, the inclusion of women like O’Brien in such horny films can disrupt our understanding of gender and desire in exhilarating and new ways.    

It should be noted that not all sportswomen build up muscle in the same way as Williams or Gauff. This is something women athletes have expressed discomfort over, as they feel forced to choose between looking ‘strong’ or ‘feminine’. In an interview with Dr Alison Owen, Lecturer in Health Psychology for The Conversation, a female athlete confessed that she feels like “athletes are put into two categories: either they are labelled as not trying hard enough because they don’t look strong or they are shamed for looking manly and it’s too much.”

There is no singular way an athlete’s body should look, and plenty of sportswomen share Tashi’s slender frame. However, we should call into question when we are being fed the same types of bodies on film and television, over and over again, because not only do they impact how we think about gender, but they also impact how we feel about our bodies and others.  

  • For more: Elrisala website and for social follow us on Facebook
  • Source of information and images “dazeddigital

Related Articles

Back to top button