Strong, passionate, talented women of all shapes and sizes are leading the way for a new normal when it comes what we think an athlete should look like.

By Sara Angle
Updated: August 15, 2016
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

With the 2016 Summer Olympics in full swing, there's a lot of chatter about the way competitors are being talked about in the news and How Olympic Media Coverage Undermines Female Athletes. But despite sexist commentary, according to the International Olympic Committee, 45 percent of the athletes competing at Rio are female-the highest percentage in Olympic history-a sign that the image of what an athlete looks like is shifting to be less about gender or other conventions and more about performance and merit. After all, this Olympics is full of amazing people defying the norm, like sprint duathlete Chris Mosier, the first transgender athlete to make Team USA, and Oksana Chusovitina, who at 41, is the oldest female gymnast to compete in the Olympics.

Outside of the Olympic spotlight, the conversation about what an athlete looks like is also changing. Just last month it was announced that Supermodel Karlie Kloss Is the New Face of Adidas by Stella McCartney, nodding to the athleticism of the former dancer and avid exerciser who often posts on social media about her workouts. At one time, she may have been called "too skinny" or "weak," but watch the model lift weights or run the Paris Half-Marathon during fashion week and you can't deny she's a hard working athlete.

Female weightlifters, once mocked for being "bulky" or "manly" are now more idealized, due in part to the popularity of CrossFit and impressive athletes like Samantha Briggs and Katrin Davidsdottir, the reigning Fittest Woman on Earth. And we can't forget to mention fighter Ronda Rousey, who proves every day that being tough and being feminine aren't mutually exclusive.

Ballerinas, often overlooked as real "athletes," are getting more recognition thanks to powerhouses in pointe shoes like Misty Copeland and brands like Under Armour that have helped to portray her strength. Sportswear giant PUMA even recently signed on to be the official activewear partner of the New York City Ballet.

The best part about all of this is that it has opened the doors for a whole new wave of athletes to take center stage-the little girls looking up to their favorite athletes on their TV screens, but also the current voices on social media, like Jessamyn Stanley's Uncensored Take On 'Fat Yoga' and the Body Positive Movement. The common denominator between all these women? Hard work and passion. And if that's not the image of a modern athlete, we don't know what is.


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