Canadian figure skating star Tessa Virtue is using her voice to support female empowerment in sport, working with sportswear manufacturer adidas in the She Breaks Barriers campaign.
The initiative aims to inspire, enable and support the next generation of female athletes, creators and leaders by providing access, removing stereotypes and addressing the inequality that female athletes face at all levels and ages.
“I think that women have not been represented equally in the media,” Virtue told TSN.ca on Thursday. “…The She Breaks Barriers campaign and the initiative Creators Unite with adidas have the platform on which to speak about these issues.”
The three-time Olympian began figure skating at age six and was paired with ice dance partner Scott Moir a year later. Over their time as partners, Virtue and Moir captured five career Olympic medals and are the most decorated Canadian ice dance team in history.
“I’ve always had a male counterpart for my training and being in competitive history for two decades, we’ve accomplished everything together,” Virtue said. We’ve achieved success and failed together, but I do think that there has been a bit of a different representation of my career.”
Despite being one half of the most decorated ice dance team in Olympic history, Virtue has first-hand experience dealing with the struggles female athletes often face.
“Of course there is body shaming. When you come of age in the public eye and there is a different standard, a totally unrealistic ideal for what the proper aesthetic is for a female athlete and a female figure skater,” she said. “Trying to come to terms and reconcile that was a process for me.”
Virtue believes that through exercise and sport she can inspire young girls who see her as a role model to break the stigma and encourage change.
“The call to action is simply to get moving. We need people to exercise and just want to nurture this sense of self-confidence,” she said. “We all feel vulnerable, have insecurities and face different battles. But encouraging that commitment to sport and a physically active lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle, I think needs to be part of the new narrative.”
The 29-year-old is working with adidas to ensure that all girls make physical activity a part of their day at a young age, regardless of the level.
“It’s heart-breaking to see young girls drop out of a sport because they don’t feel confident or strong enough,” Virtue said. “That’s why it’s so important for me to partner with adidas to help shine a light on young female athletes and provide more opportunities for them to pursue sports that they love. With She Breaks Barriers, adidas can support this community and challenge them to keep going by offering the tools they need to become healthy, active adults.”
According to information provided as part of the She Breaks Barriers initiative, if a girl has yet to play a sport by the age of 10, she only has a 10 per cent chance of living a physically active life in her adult years.
“The lessons we learn in sport, whether its leadership, communication, body awareness, learning to fail and setting goals, that discipline goes with being an athlete on whatever scale – organized sport, high level or recreational. I think we can transfer those into our everyday lives,” Virtue said.
In terms of coming full circle in her own life, Virtue sees her position in this campaign as a path to a different role off the ice in her future.
“I like the idea of mentoring young girls in whatever capacity – not necessarily in the figure skating realm, but young athletes and young girls,” she said. “There is so much to be learned and gained by that sisterhood. I’ve sort of been through the phase where I’ve been amalgamating and amassing mentors and people whom I admire and respect.”
Other brand ambassadors for the She Breaks Barriers campaign include Alix Klineman (volleyball), Candace Parker (basketball), Nora Vasconcellos (skateboarding), Chiney Ogwumike (basketball), Lindsey Horan (soccer) and Von Miller (NFL linebacker).
“We can only help by bonding together,” Virtue said. “It is sort of my responsibility now – whether that is speaking out about these issues, or having a more one-on-one connected experience with a young athlete. I will definitely do my best to advocate for this change.”