Anybody who has ever met me can agree on one important point: I am a pop culture addict, with a list of favorite TV shows and movies a mile long. Some of my all-time heroes are fictional ones – which is why, when I think about women and girls in sports, my first thought goes to my favorite fictional female athletes – so here is my top five list:
5. Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars
My number one TV guilty pleasure is the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars – the scandal! The romance! The outfits! – and the series’ Emily Fields makes my list of not only one of my favorite fictional athletes, but one of my favorite characters on TV today.
At the start of the series, Emily was known around Rosewood High as a star swimmer from a military family, but she is secretly struggling with her sexuality. Throughout the past few seasons, we’ve seen Emily grow into identifying as a lesbian and grappling with that part of her identity without losing her focus on her studies, the swim team and athletics. Numerous plot points have involved Emily’s swim meets, the potential for her swimming to help her succeed in college, and how important sports and athletics are to her identity– Emily is always presented as normal, level-headed (well, as level-headed as you can be when a crazy anonymous stalker keeps texting you and slashing your tires) and as a good daughter, athlete, and friend.
4. Bliss Cavendar, Whip It
If you ask me, Whip It is one of the most under-appreciated movies in recent history. Sure, it isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but Bliss’ character is both real and inspiring.
Bliss falls in love with roller derby when she goes to see a bout. She decides to try out after a member of the team tells her, “Put some skates on. Be your own hero.”
Through roller derby, Bliss finds the courage to take charge of her life – she stands up for herself with both a boyfriend who treats her terribly and a stuck-up tormenter at school, works through her differences with her mother, and learns about the importance of being a team player – and a good friend – to the people she values in her life.
3. Maggie Fitzgerald, Million Dollar Baby
Right off the bat, Maggie faces discrimination from Frankie, a trainer and popular former athlete, who tells her that he “doesn’t train girls.” Maggie has to prove herself to Frankie, working out endlessly in Frankie’s gym and eventually convincing him to work with her; developing a close relationship with him, and rising successfully to the top of the boxing world.
While Maggie’s story has a sadder ending – I’m not going to spoil it! – it’s a reminder that with dedication, you can change people’s minds about what girls and women can and cannot do – and rise to the top.
2. Kit Keller, A League of Their Own
Dottie may be the main character of A League of Their Own, but in my mind, Kit is the real superstar. It’s Kit who convinces Dottie to join the League, and as a result, the two become founding members of a female baseball league and take the world by storm, garnering attention and support for women’s sports across the country. Kit takes sports seriously and loves every minute that she’s out on the field. She decides to stay in baseball, making a career of what was seen initially as just a hobby. If that doesn’t spell a dedication to athletics, I don’t know what does (Full disclosure: I own a Kit Keller Rockford Peaches jersey, and it was an excellent purchase).
1. Jess Bhamra, Bend it Like Beckham
When I think of awesome fictional women in sports, I think of Jesminder Bhamra. Jess has always been passionate about football (or soccer, as we call it on this side of the pond), but her traditional Indian parents have no interest in her playing on an organized team – or at all, for that matter.
Jess defies her parents, trying out for the Hounslow Harriers. Through her involvement with the team, she gains the confidence to see herself competing professionally, overcomes insecurities about her body and self-image, and forges lifelong friendships – and a romantic relationship with her (very handsome) coach. She earns a scholarship to Santa Clara University in California, and eventually convinces her parents to let her take it. Her family accepts her decision, and her relationship with someone outside their cultural bubble. Football opens up not only Jess’ world and opportunities, but expands the horizons of her traditional Indian family.
Who did I leave out? Let me know below!