As a teenager, I had a picture of Gabrielle Reece taped to my headboard. I looked at her photo daily, almost as a religious ritual because, as a young athlete myself, it motivated me to work harder. She was strong, beautiful and one of the best beach volleyball players alive. She was a role model who gave me something to aspire to each time I hit the gym. So why is it that Sabina Altynbekova, a teenage girl from Kazakhstan, is being told she’s too pretty to play volleyball? Don’t people realize that women can be beautiful and athletic simultaneously, and that it’s actually a good thing?
On the court, Altynbekova is just another teenage girl who loves to play sports like the rest of her teammates. However, when people began to notice her — not for her talent, but for her looks — things started to get out of hand. Fans became infatuated by Altynbekova at tournaments, and in time she became an internet sensation on YouTube, where videos of her warming up have gone viral.
With all of the hype, people began claiming that Altynbekova was a distraction to the sport. Rather than supporting the young player, her coach has said, “It’s impossible to work like this. The crowd behaves like there is only one player at the championship.”
As for Altynbekova, she just wants to play volleyball. She didn’t ask for the attention she’s receiving, and doesn’t flaunt herself online in a “look at me” type of way. Instead, she has a normal Instagram account with normal photos of things that normal teenagers are into: sports, fashion, travel, family and friends.
What’s so insane about this is that no one seems to be pointing out how incredibly offensive the whole thing is to women athletes everywhere. A story like this would never occur with reversed gender roles. David Beckham would never be told that he was too sexy to play soccer. LeBron James’s coach would never claim he was a burden because of the fan base his popularity brought to each game. It’s ridiculous and offensive when women are objectified in this way, and at some point, people need to say so.
Personally, I hope Altynbekova continues to play and be noticed for both her beauty and athleticism. I hope that one day, young athletes will have a picture of her pinned to their headboards, like I once did of Gabrielle Reece. I hope she has a career in sports, modeling or whatever else she aspires to, and that she isn’t deterred by those who believe beauty is what a person should be defined by.