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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Praise athletes for their sporting excellence, not looks

Rika Kayama

When referring to good looking men today, the Japanese word "ikemen" is often used. I heard a TV announcer during the Rio Olympics broadcast say, "He is popular as an ikemen runner," about an athlete participating in the Games. Women in sports, on the other hand, have been called "pretty athletes" or described as "too beautiful to be a swimmer" when people comment on their looks.

    Whether it is "ikemen" or "pretty," those who say these words use them without hesitation since they are supposedly both compliments. But I wonder how people on the receiving end of these words feel.

    I have a friend who is a physician. She is tall and has fine facial features and says she has been spotted by talent agencies many times. When she spoke at a local health conference, the moderator said at the end of the event, "While today's theme was the prevention of high blood pressure, my blood pressure has been skyrocketing because of your beauty, doctor."

    Though the comment had the audience laughing, she said she was disappointed. "I did my best to speak about exercise and diet that are good for preventing high blood pressure, but it felt like I was told that all that didn't matter," she recalled.

    What about Olympians? There must be some athletes who want the media to focus attention on their sport and outcomes of the events they are participating in rather than being in the spotlight for their looks. I occasionally see some interviewers asking athletes irrelevant questions such as, "How do you keep yourself beautiful?" but I assume there are some athletes who would feel disappointed to be asked such questions, especially right after their race was finished, or personal questions like, "Do you have a girlfriend?"

    It is indeed very beautiful how athletes devote themselves to their sports. I have no intention of picking on those who use words like "ikemen" and "beautiful" to praise the athletes' efforts. At the same time, when someone repeats comments and questions toward a person about their looks that are irrelevant to what they have achieved, it can be regarded as sexual harassment.

    It's OK to say, "the way he runs is beautiful," but not, "she is so pretty that she can be in show business" -- I imagine some people might think that's too much trouble, but if you just think a little, you would understand. We should not bring up topics about someone being a man or woman, or their looks, when they are putting their best into something regardless of such labels. Then we can simply applaud their sporting excellence. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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