Olympic hopeful in weightlifting Sarah Robles is the strongest woman in America. She can lift 568 pounds—that’s the equivalent of five Ikea couches, or an adult male lion. But she’s living on $400 a month, struggling to pay her bills and buy food. How is it that this amazing world-class female athlete is basically living in poverty? Companies should be lining up to sponsor a successful, 23-year-old Olympic athlete, right? Wrong. Because Sarah isn’t a “conventionally attractive” woman, the sponsorship deals aren’t exactly rolling in.
“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy.”
Ugh. Her statement is incredibly sad, but it’s true. This is the reality of our society, of our media, and of the body ideals that trickle down to us, as women and consumers. A woman like Sarah, someone who is strong, accomplished, and hopefully about to win medals for America, can’t make a living as a professional athlete. Because of the way she looks.
Sure, only a small percentage of athletes get big bucks from sponsorship deals. Sure, weight lifting isn’t necessarily the most popular sport, regardless of who participates in it. Still, lots of male weightlifters get sponsorships from supplements; Sarah’s lone sponsorship deal is with PowerBar. That deal apparently isn’t enough to allow her to stop getting assistance from food banks and from her friends and family, though.
Sarah must eat 3,000-4,000 calories a day in order to keep up with her tough training regimen–which is pretty hard to do on the $400 a month she receives from USA Weightlifting (the rigor of her training prevents her from getting a supplemental job). Plus, as she says, she doesn’t yet have enough name recognition:
“It’s simple. If a company wants to advertise their brand, there’s no benefit in sponsoring you if you’re not getting any exposure.”
But this isn’t a problem that’s limited to Sarah or weight lifting. Pro surfer Bo Stanley ran into the same thing–now a successful model, thanks to the help of Katie Halchishick and Natural Model Management, the curvy athlete has got sponsorships and plenty of swag. But before signing with an agency that promotes healthy bodies at any size, she had a hard time locking down enough sponsorship money, and developed an eating disorder when she tried to get down to a more “conventional” size.
Which is why it’s been great to see Sarah become something of a body image activist–these attitudes need to change. Her mantra is “Beauty is Strength,” and she runs an awesome blog, Pretty Strong, with fellow weightlifter Jessica Gallagher. Like Maya over at Feministing, I would absolutely LOVE to see an ad campaign featuring Sarah and her mantra. It would be incredibly inspirational and empowering for women everywhere—no matter what their size or sport. Nike? Wheaties? Lunabar? Are you listening? Get this woman an endorsement deal, STAT!
As a result of the media coverage about her situation, an IndieGoGo campaign has been established for Sarah and her coach, Joe Micela. Go, Sarah! We couldn’t agree more that women can be pretty AND strong, and we’re rooting for you!
Photo: Buzzfeed via Sarah Robles