Fox Sports reporter Charissa Thompson faced sexist comments when she dyed her hair. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s not easy being a female sports reporter. Women are as vastly outnumbered as they are in newsrooms, subjected to sexism in the media, and are frequently criticized for their appearance. This is something Fox Sports reporter Charissa Thompson knows all too well, according to an interview with the journalist that will air on the Aug. 23 episode of HBO’s Real Sports.
Thompson recounts starting her career as a sports reporter eight years ago, coming to the conclusion that she would dye her hair from blond to brunette to be taken more seriously in the field. “It’s a complete departure from what I look like the week before,” she recalled in the interview. “I was just sick of being blond, and I wanted to rid myself of the Barbie thing.”
The reaction? Deadspin’s headline read: “Charissa Thompson Continues Down Suicidal Path to Frumpyville.” How did she feel about that? “Awful,” Thompson said. “Because now I’m doing this for credibility, and I’m not getting the credibility. I’m just getting attention now for being ugly.”
Thompson didn’t want to get attention for the wrong reasons, so she dyed her hair back to blond. Deadspin also reported on this change, penning a new sexist headline: “Charissa Thompson Returns to Bonerville.”
Stefanie K. Johnson, an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and a researcher of workplace bias, says there’s something about blondes. “Recent research has argued blond hair makes you appear more feminine, but also makes you appear less threatening,” Johnson tells Yahoo Beauty. “Blond is very childlike; few of us have naturally blond hair as adults.”
In the world of sports, dominated by men and masculinity, blond hair may subconsciously serve to keep women looking approachable on the sidelines. In addition to Thompson, blond journalists like Erin Andrews and Samantha Ponder have also thrived in their field. “In particular, if a sports reporter has blond hair, that extra femininity serves to counteract the masculinity of the job, as she is in essence ‘violating’ a gender role by working in sports,” Johnson says.
Johnson says that an increasing number of institutions are focusing on eliminating or at least reducing sexism in the workplace. For instance, the American Bar Association banned sexist language like “darling” and “honey” in the courtroom earlier this year. “People are starting to realize that words have power,” Johnson explains. “So saying something about Thompson, that she has spiraled downward toward frumpy failure, is unacceptable.”
For women who are striving to be taken seriously, looks still rarely exit the equation — but the moment we bring them up in any context, it’s a step backward. “She is being minimized for her intellectual and professional contribution to the field,” Johnson says. “At a recent conference, this topic came up. When we mention appearance, people are constantly questioning why they got the job, and then they start to question their competence and contributions.”
Sexual harassment and sexist comments hold women back — sometimes delivered with the intent to “keep women in their place,” according to Johnson. “It’s unnecessary, and we don’t talk enough about it.”
Real Sports’s segment on sexism will air tonight at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.