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Stop it with the “Bikini vs. Burka” headlines. Let’s focus on women’s athleticism.

Stop it with the “Bikini vs. Burka” headlines. Let’s focus on women’s athleticism. These Olympic Games have been flooded with women’s sports badassery — in events of all types, from women all over the map. But one of the most striking things about this Olympic Games has been Muslim women’s participation.

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first MuslimAmerican athlete to compete in a hijab, a headscarf that covers the face and neck, at the Olympic Games. Her presence as an outspoken black Muslim woman has certainly been powerful. Time magazine named her to its 100 Most Influential People list, calling her a new face for Team USA.

And after marching out in front of the US delegation during the opening ceremony and competing earlier this week, she has become the first hijab-wearing American to win a medal.Meanwhile, indomitable teenager Sara Ahmed won Egypt’s first medal of the games and is the only Arab woman to ever stand on the podium for weightlifting.

As exciting as these accomplishments are, the media doesn’t always examine or present them in the most nuanced fashion. Muhammad’s hijab seems to garner more media attention than her athletic prowess. A thoughtful, unwavering black Muslim woman draped in red, white, and blue is an important image, particularly in the current toxic political climate of the United States that has shown systemic anti-Muslim and anti-black hostility. But like any athlete, what she wears — in this case, her hijab — should not define who she is.

To constantly emphasize what she’s wearing and not her athletic skill is tiresome. This is especially important to note since sports media seldom pays attention to women athletes in general and specifically leaves out other challenges of Muslim women in sports, including rules against hijab in sport or recreation or stadiums that ban women.

It would seem that mainstream media will only speak of Muslim women athletes if it can serve up stereotypical tropes. But Muslim women have competed at the Olympic games for decades. Why is it only notable when they wear a hijab, or if they’re not dressed just like everyone else?

At the Rio games, Doaa Elghobashy and Nada Meawad of Egypt became the first beach volleyball players to compete in the Olympics wearing full sleeves and pants, instead of the previously FIVB mandated two-piece swimsuit. The coverage didn’t focus on the match itself, but on what they were wearing.

The juxtaposition of a fully covered woman engaging in a sweaty and sandy competition against an athlete with much less clothing is noteworthy, but the media remained fixated. Besides, it’s not like every team wears bikinis to compete, either. The Swiss and Dutch teams have donned less revealing uniforms to deal with low temperatures on Copacabana Beach.[…]

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