We all know I’m no sports fan, but I might have to start making an exception for college women’s basketball. I’ve had a girlcrush on Courtney Paris since reading about her in the Times last month, and now I have a crushcrush on LZ Ganderson for writing this article. (I also love whoever captioned the photo of her, btw.)
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, you will not see Courtney Paris gracing too many magazine covers. Not because she’s undeserving — obviously she is — but because she’s not “cover girl material.” Paris is pretty. But she’s also big. Not just tall — but big. And she’s strong and athletic and confident, and she and others like her make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Particularly men. Consequently magazines, including the one I write for, will always hesitate to put her on the cover even during the height of basketball season despite the fact she’s the best college basketball player in the country.
This is March madness.
Actually, I take that back. I do have a better description for it. It’s blatant discrimination. And it’s something that happens a bit too comfortably in a country that is quick to wave its moral finger at other nations when it comes to gender equity issues. True, we do not force our women to marry men they don’t know or walk several paces behind their mates, but the way we portray big women in the media — or worse yet, ignore them — can be as painful as a closed-hand strike to the face.
Also, I really wish Bubba Paris was my dad:
“If you don’t have a circle of influence that tells you being big is beautiful and you only look at what society tells you how you should look, then you’re going to have self-esteem issues,” Bubba said. “But we always taught our children (Courtney’s twin sister, Ashley, also plays at Oklahoma) that being big was beautiful, and we were always playing sports, so they knew about the advantages of size.”
And also, how fucking nuts is this, about when the elder Paris played for the 49ers?
“[Bill Walsh] had a 270-pound rule, and he would fine me $50 for every pound every day I was over 270 pounds,” Bubba said. “It wasn’t that I was fat. I am just a big man. I lost over $1 million in fines and was constantly tormented because of my size, and it affected my self-esteem very much in the same way a woman’s self-esteem would be affected because of her size.”
For as much as I bitch about size discrimination in general, I have the luxury of not thinking much about what it’s like to be both tall and big–a person who takes up more vertical and horizontal space than most people think one human being ought to be allotted. Obviously, even for men–even for a professional football player–being bigger than society thinks you should be has some ugly consequences. But my god, for women? Quick! Call her a dyke! It’s our only hope!
The fact that Courtney Paris is denied magazine covers is the least of her damned worries. Thank god she’s got a lot of self-esteem, an unbelievable talent and passion that make her size an asset, and a mouthpiece (however unfairly limited) to tell young girls it’s cool to be just who you are. But man, she’s still a pretty young girl herself, just a sophomore in college, and she’s got to deal with being big, black, female and, no doubt, frequently presumed to be a lesbian–awfully close to a perfect score on the Oppression Meter–all in the public eye. I might just admire the poise and confidence she displays in interviews even more than her athletic skill. That is freakin’ heroic.
The interesting thing is, Paris’s particular combination of oppression-worthy characteristics–especially alongside her phenomenal talent in a male-dominated arena–could not illustrate more clearly that the root of discrimination is straight-up fear. Bigots can talk all they want about how black people are this and that, women are the other thing, fat people are disgusting and unhealthy–but any idiot can see that not a single one of the usual, stereotypical arguments used to justify hating an entire group of people can apply to Courtney Paris, even a little bit. You know what else any idiot can see, though? Courtney Paris is fucking scary.
Look at that picture up there–and consider that a Google image search on her name turns up a lot of pictures like that, and almost none where she looks like the amiable, approachable young woman she seems to be in interviews. It’s inescapable: Courtney Paris can kick your ass–and yours, and yours, and yours. Not just physically, either, but professionally. This is the player dubbed “Baby Shaq”; this is the person everyone agrees is the best college ball player out there, and you’ll note they didn’t say “best women’s player.” And this person, who is among both the very largest human beings and the very best athletes, no qualifications, is also equipped to create life. That’s a lot of fucking power. (Not to mention, there are two of her!)
Paris is a walking paradox: a member of at least three oppressed groups, and simultaneously one of the most potentially powerful human beings any of us is ever likely to see. She’s smart, physically and mentally strong, and self-confident. There are very few men she couldn’t take down in a fight, let alone other women. If the WNBA paid like the NBA or got the same kind of attention, she’d be filthy rich on her own merits and world-famous by the time she’s 25. Also, boobies!
And that says a lot about why this society works so hard to keep the big, the black (who, on average, are more likely to be the big), and the female in their places. ‘Cause if we didn’t, we might be welcoming our new dark-skinned lady baller overlords within a couple generations.
And I, for one, totally would.