Megan Easy, formerly Megan Hodge, a professional volleyball player and riverside alum, is no stranger to sexualization or objectification.
Megan Easy grew up in Durham North Carolina where she attended Riverside High School from 2002 to 2006. She was named the 2006 High School player of the year and went on to attend Penn State where she won three national championships.
She retired from her professional career last year after playing overseas and on the US women’s volleyball team since graduating college.
As any young girl is, Easy was familiar with hearing comments about her body.
“You get used to it unfortunately,” she said.
Easy was unaware though of the true detriment these comments and actions could have, as they were commonly normalized.
“When I was in high school it wasn’t really a big deal yet,” said Easy. “I think people now are just more aware of things that have gone on.”
Coaches didn’t talk about the possibility of sexual comments being made, and when things were said to players they never discussed it. Despite this lack of communication and acknowledgement, sexualization was still very prevalent.
Easy would hear comments during games and practices about her appearance
“There were comments from fans or whoever was in the gym but never from the coaching staff,” she said.“The volleyball uniform doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination.”
Even before hearing comments about weight or appearance, many athletes are already hyper aware of what they look like and a single comment could add to that fixation and cause many more unhealthy problems.
“You already have to be kind of aware of your body and how you enter a room or the space you take up physically,” said Easy. “A lot of athletes, male or female, are aware of what they look like in their uniform and how they present themselves, and it would be hard to play if you were thinking about that all the time.”
Added comments on body shape can lead to a dramatic increase in low self esteem and can take up an athlete’s whole brain.
They are no longer focused on the game but are now constantly worrying about what they look like to the people in the stands.
While there is a big prevalence of sexualization and objectification in high school, Easy said it tends to increase dramatically in college.
“College is a whole different ball game,” Easy said. It opens up so many new opportunities for inappropriate comments.”
“Sports were like a job. Your performance was very related to everything so not being out of shape or overweight was addressed more,” Easy said. “In high school, if you gained 5 pounds there’s not really anything anyone can do because you’re not in high school to just play your sport, whereas in college you’re on a full-ride to play that sport and go to school. If you cannot play your sport, that can affect so many things.”
Coaches and even teammates were able to comment on athletes’ body shape with it seeming normal, so determining the difference between helping manage a healthy lifestyle and just objectifying becomes very difficult.
“People had more room in the first place to address if you need to lose weight or adjust your nutrition” said Easy. “They tried to be delicate, but it’s hard to address girls’ bodies without it coming off bad.”
“Male staff tried to keep their opinions to themselves,” said Easy. They didn’t want anything to come off as unprofessional or seem as if they were making unnecessary comments because of the new acknowledgement of sexualization. “It was starting to become more mainstream as far as attention being put on it and no one wants to get in trouble.”
Coaches weren’t the only people with more space to comment on women’s bodies. With bigger campuses and more travel for games the amount of people the women’s sports team were exposed to greatly increased.
Objectification would happen often, and you could constantly hear comments being made on women’s bodies,both at games and around campus, said Easy
“There were away games where people would make comments about intimate body parts in the crowd,” said Easy, who could hear them all the way on the court. “The things that were said were not really appropriate for a high school newspaper,” she said. “As soon as the game was over it would be like ‘Oh my god, can you believe what that fan said?’
While many athletes ignored these comments, not all could.
“Some of us tuned it out but some girls, especially during their first year or two, were just like what did they say?”
“You get used to it unfortunately,” she said.
Sexualization became much more prevalent in college not only in terms of how often it happened but how often it was talked about.
The fact that the Penn State Volleyball team was excelling, with a 32-3 record in 2006, 34-2 in 2007, 38-0 in 2008, and 38-0 in 2009, did add to their exposure.
“Our team was in the spotlight a lot so regardless if the comments were inappropriate or not because of how well we were doing we were getting a lot of attention which just kind of opened us up to more comments,” said Easy
Looking back, she realizes how unaware she was of things that had happened and how much damage they could truly have.
“[Sexualization] can be very detrimental for young people in high school and college,” said Easy. “I think it can put a weight on people, maybe not even knowingly.”
Adolescence is already a hard time for many people emotionally. It’s a time where people are trying to figure out who they are and experiencing any sort of sexualization or objectification can immensely affect their self perception in a negative way.
“Luckily now there is so much awareness,” said Easy. People are more aware of the detriment sexualization can have and are more inclined to look out for it and acknowledge it.
“When I was in High school a lot of things didn’t get addressed because it was like I don’t know if I want to make this a big deal or if anyone is going to listen and I don’t think that’s as big of an issue now, people will listen” said Easy.