We’ve all heard stories of models and actresses who have to deal with the sometimes unattainable expectation to be beautiful all the time, but now it appears that this expectation of beauty is expanding to the sports world. Apparently, even some athletes are now facing the pressure to be beautiful. At least that’s what it seems to be in the case of 26-year-old Korean golfer, Ahn Sun-ju.
After winning 16 tournaments and accruing nearly $5 million in prize money since 2010, Ahn has climbed her way upward and has become the top female golfer in Japan. Clearly, this is an extraordinary achievement, but it left sports columnist Lee Young-mi with questions. Namely, why was she not striving to be the best golfer in Korea?
Unfortunately, her responses to his interview questions were disheartening to say the least. Simply put, her physical appearance held her back.
“Some (potential Korean) sponsors even demanded I get plastic surgery,” she said in the article. “Companies did not consider me as a golf athlete, only that I was a woman. It mattered most to them was whether my appearance was marketable [sic]. I was deeply hurt by that.”
The Korea Times points out that she won six tournaments in Korea, but still struggled to find a corporate sponsor. Is it really because she wasn’t pretty enough? She thinks so. During the interview, Ahn acknowledged that she doesn’t fit the stereotypical definition of “sexy” (why does that even matter?) but would not let that hinder her from playing golf. Instead, she turned to Japan.
“Japanese companies, on the other hand, focused on my ability as a golfer,” Ahn explained. “They are more concerned about my performance and how I treat my fans. I am being sponsored by six Japanese companies, including a clothing brand.”
Can we say for certain that Ahn’s decision to move to JLPGA was due to Korea’s inability to accept her physical appearance? Absolutely not. She may have just dealt with a sour company’s opinion and we certainly shouldn’t assume that the KLPGA puts those expectations on their players.
What we do know is that Ahn endured a horrible experience of someone telling her she wasn’t pretty enough. What’s even worse is the realization that we, too — sometimes not even aware of it — are told the same thing.
Many of us, especially women, are pressured on a daily basis as hundreds of advertisements tell us there’s room for improvement. That of course confirms the message we’ve grown up with our entire lives: we’re never enough and our imperfections need to be fixed. The pressure to be beautiful certainly occurs worldwide, but some countries, such as Korea, have begun to build a reputation for beauty, a reputation maybe they feel they must keep. Many people have now correlated Korea’s high beauty standards to their equally high plastic surgery rates. After all, how else is one supposed to keep up with such extreme pressure and expectations?
We may never know the details behind Ahn Sun-ju’s unfortunate experience. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that we admire her. She quickly understood that her worth was measured in her talent, not in her external beauty. Besides, last we checked, beauty never won golf tournaments. Good for you, girl.