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Tatiana Cutts is a co chair and founder of the Mind Your Head campaign as well as the captain of the Oxford University Women’s Rugby Club. According to their website, “Mind Your Head, Oxford University’s mental health campaign, was founded in November 2011 with three aims: to raise awareness of mental illness; to fight the stigma associated with it and to improve student mental wellbeing.”

Members of the sports club chose to pose nude for a calendar with the intentions of donating the proceeds from the sell of the calendar to the Mind Your Head campaign. Yet, the sexualizing of women, and specifically female athletes, is heavily documented as being detrimental and counter productive to the mental and over all well being of women. The extreme lack of mental health awareness indicated in this endeavor to increase mental health awareness is at least ironic and at best – well, crazy making!

The following is a slightly edited version of a letter I sent to Ms. Cutts on December 9, 2013. However, in this document, I address all of the women of the club.

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Dear Members of the Oxford University Women’s Rugby Club,

Surely your good intentions and history of commitment to mental health awareness are commendable.   I certainly share and appreciate your commitment if not your method. As a mental health professional and women’s advocate/activist of over thirty years, I am particularly interested in and committed to raising awareness about eating disorders, exercise addictions, poor body images, and low self esteem of women, particularly young female athletes. I work daily to assist young women in moving past the harmful effects of our culture’s continued and pervasive sexualizing of women.

As women have moved more solidly into the field of athletics, the sexualizing of female athletes has served to undercut and demean women and their athletic achievements. This has direct and harmful effects on the mental health of women of all ages with young female athletes being especially vulnerable to such exploitation. I could certainly provide countless case studies of young women who suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia so that they look “good enough” in their sporting attire.  I could provide countless case studies of young girls who are suffering the repercussions of posting their own nude photos on the internet to receive any approval from anybody.  As a result, they suffer “slut shaming” and harassment from those whom they so desperately tried to gain approval.

There is an abundance of information on the internet regarding the sexualizing of female athletes and its negative effects on women; individually and collectively, in athletics and beyond. Perhaps you will share these articles in your effort to increase mental health awareness.

The Media’s Sexualization of Female Athletes: A Bad Call for the Modern Game

Research Blog: Sexualized Female Athletes & the Impact on Young Women

Sex Sells? Trend May Be Changing
Women In Sports; Sexualization of Female Athletes

This is just a very small sampling of the extensive list of articles about the damaging effects of sexualizing the female athlete. Unfortunately, regardless of your good intentions, your calendar has proven to be one more incident that undercuts the mental health of young women as they try to find strength, courage and body acceptance in realms beyond attractiveness and sexuality. With no question, corporations and female athletes understand that the sexualizing of women (in any arena) raises money; even as it reduces the perception of their athletic abilities. Consequently, you will raise money, but at what cost?

If you wish to sexualize women’s bodies to earn money, perhaps you could donate your money to a different organization; perhaps to a cause that is not actually undermined by the product you are selling. I am deeply saddened by the ironic and extreme lack of mental health awareness indicated in this endeavor.  I am deeply saddened that a mental health professional or a collegiate advisor did not either have the awareness or find it necessary to raise the awareness of the young women on your team who were involved in the production of this calendar. This culture desperately needs models of true athleticism, strength and courage. A great opportunity for a true “celebration of strong women” through positive role-modeling by the intelligent, strong, athletically competent young women of the Oxford University Women’s Rugby Club has been missed and degraded.

Again, I deeply honor and share your intentions.  It is important that women continue to dialogue and learn from each other. That is my sole intention in writing this letter.

Respectfully yours,

Carolyn Zahner, MSW, LISW