The XX Factor

Caster Semenya: From Man to Mannequin

On the heels of Caitlin Mostacella’s insightful post on double standards and warped cultural values when it comes to female athletes, here’s some beauty news on Caster Semenya to curl your teeth ( via Broadsheet) :

The 18-year-old appears on the cover of You magazine with her cheeks rouged, lips glossed and nails painted. Instead of her yellow-and-green tracksuit, she dons a sleek black dress that covers up her washboard abs; gold jewelry, not sweat, drips from her neck; and her cornrows are combed out into a bouncy coiffure. The South African glossy declares in a headline: “Wow, Look at Caster Now!” Also: “Athletics star Caster Semenya as you’ve never seen her before-transformed by YOU from powergirl to glamour girl.” Inside the magazine, a four-page spread shows Semenya in various feminine fashions: a sequined top and skin-tight black leggings and, according to the BBC , “a grey knee-length dress worn with a grey cropped jacket and a black-and-white cocktail dress worn with stilettos.” The magazine quotes her as saying, “I’d like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.” After the shoot, Semenya reportedly told her manager to buy all of the outfits she had modeled.

Gross. Not the young Semenya, who looks very nice. The makeover. This, we’ll recall, is a bit like what happened with Susan Boyle after her starmaking turn on Britain’s Got Talent . But here it seems even more fraudulent. Of course, it’s hard to blame Semenya for wanting some pretty clothes-as a busy, traveling, regimented professional athlete, I’m sure that accessory shopping is hard to come by. But it’s incredibly lame that, because of the earlier controversy, Semenya’s natural inclination to look pretty is cast as a referendum on gender itself. See , we say, she’s a woman-because she likes clothing and jewelry. Cause, meet effect.

This incident speaks to an annoying, subversive narrative of cultural fright that Kai Wright tried to unpack recently over at The Root :

It’s important to note that no one believes she has masqueraded as a woman. Rather, the hypothesis is that she’s been confused her whole life. “Clearly it was not her fault,” IAAF spokesperson Nick Davies told the BBC, in speculating about what it’ll mean if she fails her gender exam. “It’s a medical issue. … She was born, christened and grew up a woman.” She just might not be one, at least not by IAAF’s standards.

So now she must endure a stunning battery of tests, stretching far past a mere dropping of the trousers. Davies explains: “There is chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans. … It’s very, very comprehensive.” Gynecological investigation? I mean, really?

Yes, excuse me-I’m off to watch Serena Williams outrun, outserve, and outlast another star-crossed U.S. Open opponent.

Photograph of Caster Semenya by Lee Warren/Gallo ImagesGetty Images.