Thrive Global on Campus//

I Got a Black Eye and It Taught Me a Thing or Two About Sexism

But definitely not in the way you’d expect.

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Image of Maddie Howard, Taken by Kathy Benedict

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This fall is my third season as a college athlete. I play on the women’s soccer team at New York University and it has easily been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.

Sports have been a central part of my life ever since I was young. Soccer is where I’ve made all of my greatest friends, persevered through my toughest moments and learned the value of continuous hard work. Those closest to me know my soccer performance and my athletic career are always my number one priority, that I’m willing to make difficult sacrifices in order to play at my best.

In the beginning of the season I suffered my first real injury in the form of a huge, shining black eye after colliding heads with a girl on the other team. I could’ve been hurt much worse and ultimately, I’m lucky I didn’t get a concussion. Regardless, the impact left my eye swollen shut, and when it came time for our next game I had to sit out for the first time  —  ever.

I figured that I would be on the receiving end of a lot of comments because of my eye. My friends and family knew how devastated I would be having to not play given my lack of vision. Naturally, they’d feel sorry for me.

And they were. Just not for the reason I expected.

When I saw people after my injury, their first comment usually went something like this:

“Don’t worry. You’re still beautiful!”

Beautiful. Being beautiful was the last thing on my mind. I was unable to play for the first time in my college career and I felt completely defeated. I held back tears the entire day thinking about how much I wanted to be on the field with my teammates. Yet the first thing people thought I would care about is my appearance.

How I looked hadn’t crossed my mind.

And though I knew they didn’t mean for it to come across negatively, their comments made me self-conscious. It was like I needed a reminder that as a woman, the first thing I should care about is how my body looks rather than what it can do. It reminded me that according to society, I shouldn’t be upset about not being able to play soccer but rather that my face wasn’t in its most beautiful form.

This brief period of frustration demonstrated the power of the words we use when speaking to each other  —  especially when it comes to women and girls alike. It forced me to reevaluate the way I speak to my mother, grandmothers, sisters and friends.

How often did I comment on their appearance when it wasn’t relevant to the conversation? Did I ever make them cognizant of how they looked when it wasn’t necessary? How can I compliment them in ways that have to do with their abilities or personality rather than their bodies?

In a culture that values a woman’s image over all of her other accomplishments, we should make efforts to speak to the women in our lives about things other than appearance.

Because what does “beautiful” even mean anyway?

Originally published at

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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