There’s something missing from this year’s Olympic Games and it’s not just the US swim team’s wallets.
No, Rio’s competition has been distinctly lacking in unattractive people.
The topic of athletes’ looks has been a hot one this week, after Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke failed to make a final despite huge public interest, millions of dollars worth of endorsements (she’s a current face of Coca Cola) and a successful modelling career.
American Fox News commentators landed themselves in hot water last week when they said athletes had to look attractive in order to get support.
“The whole point of the Olympics, the whole reason for this training, for this work to get there, is product endorsements,” guest commentator Mark Simone said.
While Simone may have overstated the importance of endorsements, he has a point.
It’s certainly evident that the more attractive athletes get more airtime, sponsorships and attention, but there also seem to be a far higher proportion of aesthetically blessed competitors at this year’s event.
Do “hot athletes” go further because they’re more marketable and attract more sponsors? Or are all the good athletes better looking because they’re in peak physical condition?
Turns out, at least when it comes to men, studies have shown that physical attractiveness is correlated with endurance.
This year’s Olympians aren’t just attractive; they’re tall, toned, glistening specimens of physical perfection.
In designer uniforms, with full faces of make-up, jewellery and perfectly white teeth, they temporarily replace Hollywood stars as the ideal to aspire to.
Modern Olympians are a far cry from their dorky, imperfect predecessors who dressed for comfort, rarely nabbed cosmetics endorsement deals and had no concept of social media.
Today, when athletes don’t reach a certain standard of physical perfection we ignore them, or worse, we criticise or question them.
South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya has been vilified for her “masculine” appearance and accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
American gymnast Gabby Douglas was lambasted for having “unkempt” hair during the 2012 Olympics, a criticism that was renewed again this year.
It is perhaps this immense pressure and scrutiny that has resulted in so many athletes striving for perfection, both in their performance and appearance.
Or maybe it’s purely psychological – look better, feel better.
“I do wear make-up on game days,” hurdler Sydney McLaughlin told Elle magazine. “Obviously what’s most important is your performance, but it’s psychological, too. If you feel good about yourself, you’ll be faster.”