Hope Solo is strong on her feet, and that's beautiful
Hope Solo is widely regarded as one of the world's top goalkeepers. In 2009, she was named the U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year; late last year, she underwent major shoulder surgery, yet continued on to become the first U.S. goalkeeper to save two penalty kicks during regulation time, against Iceland in the opening game of the Algarve Cup.
Impressive, no? There's just one thing: Don't you wish she were a little more girly?
The judges on "Dancing With the Stars" sure do. During the premiere, after performing the Viennese waltz with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Solo was awarded 21 of 30 possible points -- one of the highest scores of the evening – but not without a few asinine comments:
"You look like you're punching me in the face." -- Judge Bruno Tonioli.
"Just be aware of muscling things -- it's a natural tendency for you." -- Judge Carrie Ann Inaba.
"Just be a bit more feminine out there." -- Judge Len Goodman
The hits came from other venues, too: NBC's "Off the Bench" joked about mistaking her for Eli Manning. Sadly, Solo didn't help matters much, at one point motioning to her arm and admitting, "There's too much muscle in that arm to be pretty."
A few weeks ago, I discussed the advantages of pro athletes on "DWTS": speed, precision, grace, endurance, coachability. (Unfortunately, Metta World Peace proved me wrong, being the first dancer to get the boot.) But Solo, as evidence by her score, showed off some impressive skills. It's just that she allegedly seemed too mannish while doing it.
She's certainly not the first female athlete to be on the receiving end of such criticism. WNBA players are forever being mocked for not appearing ladylike. In 2009, Wimbledon featured lesser-ranked but more conventionally attractive players, like then-unseeded world No. 45 Gisela Dulko of Argentina, on Centre Court, relegating "mannish" players like Serena Williams (then No. 2) to Court 2.
It seems that people are mistakenly equating "fit" and "strong" with "male." When I saw Solo gliding across the floor, I was practically salivating at her body -- her exposed back was absolutely gorgeous, so toned you could bounce a quarter off her lats. While Inaba's critique that she might be stepping out of the dance world's traditional "feminine" role might have some merit, the manner in which it was delivered suggests that Solo is an ogre, physically bossing her weak male partner around the floor. But what is she supposed to do; somehow undo a lifetime of strength training and drive and become some submissive wisp of a thing? You don't beat Brazil with a shootout save by hanging back and twirling your hair.
Female athletes face the tricky challenge of balancing their athleticism with their femininity, all in an effort to please stereotype-saddled fans. The Williams sisters tend to overcompensate, dressing in silly frills. Flo Jo tried to compete for the Guinness record for longest fingernails. I seriously hope Solo doesn't follow suit and start showing up in a push-up bra with a damsel-in-distress demeanor. Women need more female role models with some real balls.
espnW columnist Leslie Goldman is a die-hard workout junkie who covers health and fitness for many popular women's magazines and is the author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the 'Perfect' Body." Full disclosure: Her high school athletic experience was limited to sophomore-year color guard.