This is one of those topics about which I do have a lot to say but am also tentative with a moderate fear of retribution. I have a lot to say because I have a (current) teenage son and a (former) teenage daughter. I am a woman who is all for women expressing themselves but I also believe that sometimes comes with a “but …”. I have a moderate fear of retribution because, while I am nowhere near the “influencer” status that some claim, I also don’t want to upset my nearly (and I don’t mean to brag) 75 followers.
Moderate? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Writers live in fear that those articles that they hope will fly under the radar are not the same articles that go viral for all the wrong reasons.
There has been quite a bit of press over the past week about a Lousiana State University gymnast called Livvy Dunne and some wonky fans that showed up at a recent meet in which she was not even competing.
The backstory on Livvy is that before she joined LSU as a scholarship athlete, she was a nationally ranked club-level gymnast (the same system that brought us the blessings of Suni Lee or Simone Biles or Shawn Johnson). It was also the same system in which I competed until heading off to compete in college. Clearly that “club-level” covers many, many levels and most do include words like “Elite” or “National Team” or “Olympian.”
While a club-level athlete, Livvy had the foresight to embrace TikTok and Instagram, essentially paving the way for athletes to gain exposure through social media platforms. Livvy went at social media with the same passion that she gives her training, fully intent on success through hard work and thoughtful planning.
Livvy then had the luck of landing in the sweetest college athlete spot ever: Name, Image, Likeness (NIL). NIL allows a college athlete to benefit (ie: make money) from their brand via endorsements or advertising, etc… NIL is a brand new concept that corrects the long-standing collegiate athlete question of “Why is my school making a ton of money off my performance while I still have to eat Ramen?”
The instant the NIL was enacted, Livvy became a millionaire (as a teenager). She is certainly not the only athlete benefiting from this wish that was granted to all college athletes, though she is certainly one of the most visible and sits in the top 10 of financial success across the entire NCAA.
End of backstory.
A week(ish) ago, LSU zipped over to Utah for an away meet. As the two teams kicked off their 2023 season, it was with an audience that included a rather large gaggle of rowdy teens, primarily male, pining for a shot with Livvy Dunne. And by “shot” I mean there were prom proposals, requests for a follow (ask your teen), pleas for photos, dates, winks, and more.
All in good fun? Maybe.
Post-competition, the same crowd gathered just outside the “talent” exit chanting “WE WANT LIVVY!” or “BRING US LIVVY!” These words were expressed over and over as non-Livvy people (such as announcers, trainers, and other athletes) emerged to find a raucous not-happy-to-see-you crowd. You could tell the crowd was not happy because their chant changed to “BOOOOOOO” immediately upon (not) recognizing each non-Livvy person.
All in good fun? Maybe not.
It made enough people uncomfortable that the story bubbled to the top of newscasts and sparked a fresh debate of “Who is really to blame?” for this type of behavior.
Should the individuals in the crowd be held responsible for taking their crushes too far? Should Livvy Dunne be held responsible for encouraging this attention via her social media posts? Should parents (all parents) be reminding their charges about what is appropriate and what is iffy? Did somebody just slide out my soapbox?
Yes. To all questions.
Livvy Dunne is beautiful. Livvy is a wonderful gymnast. Livvy is intelligent. Livvy is business savvy. Livvy appears to be a great teammate. Livvy has definitely mastered the ability to combine all of these positives into a mini social media empire.
I watched Livvy Dunne’s interview with Stephanie Gosk on the Today show last week and was thoroughly impressed with her. She was very well-spoken, put a great deal of thought into her responses, and was incredibly polite. I should not have been surprised by any of this as it is typically the status quo for female gymnasts: perfection everywhere.
But there was one statement that hit me wrong.
“As a woman, you’re not responsible for how a man looks at you and objectifies you. That’s not a woman’s responsibility,” (Dunne) said.
I know, I know. The woman shouldn’t be blamed but read on before you cancel me. And, yes, I know. Boys will be boys but really, just let me take this left turn.
I think we do, as women, have a responsibility for how we project ourselves and, as a result, how men look at us. There are blurry lines all over this but perhaps tending to those blurry lines would be more beneficial (and safe) than blanket statements that zip responsibility to the opposing camp. It would be awesome if we did live in a world where the objectification of women didn’t exist. Except it might also be a world where crushes and first dates and true love do not exist as, in this case, the objectification of Livvy likely stemmed from the hormone hotbed that is teenage boys.
Unless you have raised a teenage boy, you may have no idea just how impossible it is to flip the switch on their very natural reactions to seeing a scantily clad female. And I know “scantily clad” makes me sound like a stodgy old person, but yes, Livvy, does post many pictures that would rate as “scantily clad.” Admittedly, she is stunning. I suspect many of her 6 million followers sit somewhere near my own hormonal teenage son’s age. This means a whole lot of parents living in the age of very loudly announcing themselves before entering any room.
I have also raised a teenage daughter. She too was a hotbed of hormones, though expressed quite differently than her brother’s. Hers came in the form of tears and mood swings and left the house always guessing whether we would see a dragon or kitten emerge from her room.
Hormones in teens are like a force of nature. As my husband would say, would you ever attempt to turn away a hurricane simply by telling it to stop? The reality is, you’d have a better chance with that hurricane than you would in trying to reel in a teenager’s hormones. Don’t believe me? Try telling a teenage girl to stop being so emotional. Or, try telling a teenage boy not to have impure thoughts when bare skin is within a sixty-two-mile vicinity.
It is impossible. Their bodies are running rampant with nary a dash of self-control.
To be clear, I am in no way blaming Livvy. What I am doing is suggesting that all sides of this coin take some responsibility. Post all the saucy pictures you want – but know that this may cause (as Livvy put it) “concerning” responses. And, yes, we as parents should be counseling our children on proper behavior when it comes to expressing those raging hormones.
I know we live in an unfortunate world where gray areas are not welcome. However, if the gray area causes one person to fear for their safety or another person to be accused unjustly then perhaps both “sides” should take a closer look at how they arrived within those blurry lines rather than dismissing any responsibility.
I like to imagine how I would react should Jason Mamoa jump into the swim lane next to me wearing nothing but a Speedo (him, not me). My reaction probably wouldn’t be deemed appropriate and would likely include a pretend need for resuscitation.
Is that my fault for being a woman with needs or his fault for exhibiting an amazing physique?
What if no one is really “at fault” and we can all just do better? What if I make a point to speak to pretend Jason Mamoa without looking down and what if he wears something less revealing?
What if we meet in the middle?