Representation and Stigma Within Men’s Figure Skating

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Openly gay and French ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron just won himself a gold medal at the Olympics in both the Free dance and Rhythm dance events. Last October, he posted on Instagram, “masculinity, as femininity, is a very personal and beautiful thing that doesn’t need to be defined, certainly not by anyone else but yourself.”

NBC informed Chicago Tribune that figure skating is the most-watched sport in the Winter Olympics. For as long as figure skating has been around, audiences have typically diverted their focus on the glitz and glamour of the women’s individual skate, as well as the mesmerizing, romantic routines of the couples’ skate.

Women’s figure skating events have long been decorated with glamorous prestige. Between the sparkly, vibrant dresses and ballerina-esque routines, female athletes have been at the epicenter of the sport.

The Olympic games have created female figure skating legends, such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Tonya Harding. This Olympic Games, all eyes are on 15-year-old Russian up-and-comer Kamila Valieva, who along with other members of the Russian Olympic Committee, has been caught in a steroids scandal.

Photo posted by @kamilavalieva26 on Instagram

As for men’s figure skating, the sport is dominated by a community of male LGBTQ+ athletes. While there are straight male skaters, figure skating has given queer men an outlet for artistic self-expression while possessing the makings of a world-class athlete.

The disco days of the 1970s inspired both male and female figure skaters to introduce bold, feminine elements into the costumes of male figure skaters, which quickly became a figure skating wardrobe staple.

Skating choreographer Robyn Wagner also told Chicago Tribune back in 2006 why she believes male audiences aren’t interested in watching men’s figure skating the same way female audiences watch women’s figure skating. “I mean, I watch basketball and football, but I like the athleticism and the competition,” she said. “I think the male audiences don’t see those things [in figure skating], and they stop at the music and the pretty costumes and think, ‘Oh, this isn’t for me.'”

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Wagner’s take begs the question regarding heteronormativity in figure skating — where is there room in the sport for men to shine on their own without being stereotyped?

With the dazzling outfits come doubts and assumptions about athletes and the masculinity of the sport. American figure skater Nathan Chen is fresh off a gold-medal win in Beijing, but he has previously faced backlash over comments he made on a podcast regarding his experience being stereotyped for his choice of sport as a straight man.

Photo posted by @nathanwchen on Instagram

Chen described his frustrations dealing with the stereotypes behind men who figure skate, which many interpreted as homophobic, as he offered his ideas on how the sport can become more masculinized. Following the backlash, Chen apologized for his words through Twitter. “Skating is an art form as much as it is a sport,” says Chen. “The beauty in that is that there is room for individual expression and that’s something that should be celebrated.”

Though figure skating has been in the Olympics since 1908, American figure skater Adam Rippon made history at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, being the first openly gay American figure skater to compete at the Olympic Winter Games. In Beijing this year, there are nine, and in all of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, there are at least 34. The tides are turning, and for the better.

Retired figure skater Johnny Weir told, “When I was coming up in the sport, I was constantly critiqued by officials who would come monitor my progress… I was told to wear more masculine costumes, strengthen my hands and wrists while I performed, not to dye my hair and so on… I never lived in a closet, but (early in my career) I had to decide quickly between wanting to succeed in sports and living an authentic life. I chose to live authentically and succeed in sports.”


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