brittney griner, basketball, women's basketball
Jerry Larson/AP
Baylor University freshman Brittney Griner (42) is defended by St. Edward's Sophia Holquin
(12), left, and Tiss Rocquemore (33) during an exhibition game, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, in
Waco, Texas.

Basketball Phenom Brittany Griner Represents Shifting Perceptions of Beauty

April 08, 2010 03:15 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
At 6 feet 8 inches tall and growing, the freshman center for Baylor University raises the bar for women’s college basketball, and challenges preconceived notions of female beauty.

Dunking With Ease

Griner is only 19 years old, but her dunks and incredible rebounds are already leaving crowds of fans “stupefied,” Laurie Fendrich reports for Brainstorm, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

Griner and her Baylor University teammates lost to the University of Connecticut in the NCAA Women’s Final Four last weekend. Griner admitted that her lack of experience played a role in the defeat, according to the Houston Chronicle, but she seems destined for more post-season dramatics in the years to come.

In an article for The Nation, Dave Zirin writes, “[D]espite the incredible buzzer beaters and upsets in the men's draw, she is the individual story of this year's 'Big Dance.'" He goes on to compare Griner to a legend of the men’s game: “Her tournament has been simply epic, with the only available comparison being Bill Russell.”

Attention to Griner’s Appearance

Some sports blogs have spiraled into raunchy debates over Griner’s true sex because of her height and somewhat androgynous features. But others note that the statuesque phenom could “be part of a rapid but broad and seismic shift in Western culture’s idea of female beauty,” Fendrich notes.

The influence of Title IX, a provision that “has given us almost 40 years of athletic girls,” should not be overlooked in discussion of Griner, Fendrich suggests. Significant changes to women’s basketball, including full-court games, have occurred in recent decades thanks to Title IX. Furthermore, it has led to greater acceptance of physically strong women. 

The New York Times gathered commentary on Griner’s unique looks. Terry Castle, Stanford University’s Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, tells The Times, “Griner is such an athlete, and so gifted, you almost don’t notice that she is part of a slowly unfolding, civilized response in this country to the slightly androgynous female.”

She has even caught the attention of the fashion world. The Times reports that model scout Paul Rowland claims to have always loved “one-offs and amazing creatures,” like Griner, and might consider representing her.

That Griner can command such positive attention is noteworthy, and speaks to the rapidly changing “[f]eminine beauty ideals” that now include “[m]uscular athleticism” embodied by athletes like Venus and Serena Williams, The Times reports.

Talent in Spades

Sports Illustrated noticed Griner before she was a college star, in January 2007. As a 6-foot-6-inch high school sophomore, Griner had already “dunked in a game and begun to draw the attention of college recruiters from national powers, including Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, Tennessee, Miami, Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor and Wake Forest,” SI reported.

ESPN recently captured “A Day In the Life of Brittney Griner” on camera. Follow the star as she goes about her classes on the Baylor University Campus.

Background: Title IX and women in sports

The passage of Title IX in 1972 required high schools and colleges to provide women equal access to athletics. Tennis player Billie Jean King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in “The Battle of the Sexes” added an important boost to the growing women’s sports movement, and helped to legitimize Title IX. Sports Illustrated declared 1974 the “Year of Woman in Sport.”

In 1972, six female competitors in the New York City marathon protested the requirement that they start 10 minutes before the men’s race by not starting until the time elapsed. After the race, the Amateur Athletic Union added 10 minutes to each woman’s finishing time, but the women sued. Subsequently, “simultaneous start times” became a rule, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

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