Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Great Debate

"I'm going to bring my shoes and uniform and tell them I don't compete in just a sports bra."

One of my weightlifting friends has been invited to do an interview and photo shoot for a fairly prominent fitness mag. She will receive no pay; just get an opportunity to tell her story, promote the sport of weightlifting, and also dispel some myths and misconceptions.

However, there is that issue. You know, if you are a hottie and an elite athlete, chances are good they will want you to show a little skin or be photographed in a possibly provocative pose. This person has been there and knows the drill. So many of these rags, and publications that are not rags (Sports Illustrated are you listening?) sometimes border on soft porn in their portrayal of fit women or female athletes. My friend is not about to cave in to pressure for any pictures that will portray her as anything other than a proud competitor, who just happens to be a woman.

So what do you think? This is an issue that really tugs at my soul.

It is really cool to see the physicality of great athletes, male or female, as seen in this picture, taken by Rob Macklem (from the training hall at the 2007 Weightlifting World Championships). Wow, this dude is a lean machine getting ready to get his game on. There is nothing remotely suggestive in this image. In my opinion, there aren't enough cool pics like this of women that simply show them training or competing. And then there are the pictures of famous female athletes who have chosen, for whatever reason, to pose for photographs that are specifically intended to be sexually provocative, or they are just outright nude.

I'm not sure what to think. Mostly I guess I think it sets women back more than it moves us forward in our quest to be treated with respect and equitably in this working and sporting world.

Anyone else care to chime in?


Jen said...

IM, I have to say I agree with you. I don't mind seeing the physicality of a women athlete and I think it can be helpful to other women who have the fear of getting "bulky". I do mind however when all we see are posed photos of women athletes and it becomes more about what they look like then there ability.
I would much rather see a candid photo of a women's physique then all the posing. I think back to Brandi Chastain with her talking her shirt off in the excitement of the game. Everyone jumped all over that giving her a hard time, when I think it was truly a pure reaction to victory! Now that was a great photo of a women athlete in action.
I take it personally when a certain group that I'm affiliated with puts mostly the "hot" chicks photos up. It really gets to me, it's nothing against the women it's directed at the persons deciding to put up photos consistently of women who fall into a certain category. Now, most of the photos I'm referring to are in action photos which makes it a little better. I often wish these women who find themselves in this situation would take a stand like your friend. It can be humiliating. I have no shame, I put my pictures, up and I know I don't fall into the "hot" chick category. I'm athletic and proud of it! So I guess what I'm saying is that it's a double edged sword, or a touchy issue. One that I feel needs to be handled with care.

Anonymous said...

I dunno.

The cover -- and much of the contents -- of every Men's Health magazine seems like so much soft-core gay porn. (How many thin, buff, oiled up men do you need?) The (very impressive) picture of the lifter you posted reveals more details about his private ... something ... than I really would care to know, honestly.

Honestly, I don't see much of a double standard on this one. Athletes use their bodies like tools, we size each other up before competitions by checking out who is leanest, who has the biggest quads, the broadest back, who looks like s/he is in the best shape. A lot of times, we're impressed by that. Enh.

exqweezme said...

I agree with both Jen and Anon on tastes in magazines and photos. I try not to throw up when I see most men's "fitness" magazines.

But the bottomline for me is that there are consumers for this and people willing to supply the product. So as much as I want to say "PLEASE STOP LOOKING/READING THESE RIDICULOUS, PORNOGRAPHIC MAGAZINES THAT ARE BRAINWASHING YOU!!", they are just expressing their desires and I shouldn't get in the way.

overtime said...

Athletic bodies are beautiful bodies. Physical beauty is a frequent and delightful side-effect of fitness. I for one enjoy looking at it. And I'm so very tired of women with the bodies of 14-year-old boys being put forth as paragons of health and beauty. That is not the image of beauty I want my daughter growing up with.

It seems to me that every time an athlete is featured in the way you've described, it means less space devoted to the ultra-thin, semi-anorexic chic we've been force-fed for decades. Ultimately, each athlete who is asked to pose for the media must decide for him/herself what is appropriate. But I'm all for more space being devoted to the powerful and gorgeous bodies of athletes, both male and female. I'm not gonna lie. I love looking at them, ESPECIALLY when there is some skin showing.

Jerimiah said...

Most of us know the publications that exploit women and simply portray athletic women, and we know that any information in the former would be considered useless to those reading the later. Here here to your friends standards.

pd said...

I guess I just don't quite understand why it "sets women back"? At least they are doing a story about a woman who is a weightlifter. And you don't know what kind of poses they are planning on asking her do. You are just assuming that they are going to make her pose in provocative poses. Also, be careful to judge others who decide to bare more than you would. It's free country isn't it?

Anonymous said...


One thing I've noticed (not judging) is that women a half generation or so younger than we are often are more comfortable with being more provocative, for lack of a better word, than the same aged women 15 years ago. One 20-something under my guidance wore something so scandalous to practice that I had to scold her. "Girls my age think it's okay to manipulate men", she told me.

Granted this attitude is probably because a bunch of things: they're young; they're still enjoying the benefits of being young; other people have fought a lot of the important battles for them; they may not have had jobs or promotions kept from them for reasons of gender; yet. And the second biggest demographic group is the kids of baby boomers, who are generally in their 20's, so fashion is catering to things only 20-somethings can get away with.

I grant your point about pictures that are iffy, and I have mixed feelings about the organization Jen mentions and the "hot chicks" photos there. But I think a lot of young women wouldn't see a conflict.

Anonymous said...

Tracy, you have touched on a subject that is very disturbing to me and I can't begin to write everything I want to say. It's very very sad. The dynamic of female/male portrayal is disgusting, at least in this country. I don't know how long it's been like this but it's only getting worse. Sex sells. I was lucky enough to be raised by a stong Japanese mother who didn't take any crap. I always admired her and I never treat females any different than a male. Female athletes are inspring. They have to work against the grain to get any respect for what they are. I hope your friend has a good experience.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, who are you kidding? no double standard? do you live in america? the double standard is alive and well. and it doesn't recognize any boundaries. in the meantime, i guess the lifter should wear loose sweats next time he competes. when something is worn for a purpose, it tends to distract the mind from an sexual or suggestive reaction.

David said...

I agree, partially. I love to see pictures of elite athletes being the badasses that they are. That's what pictures of them are supposed to convey, their physical prowess, not how beautiful their bodies are-that's just a positive side-effect of being that fit or strong.

i think that your example picture is somewhat suggestive. i think what tends to happen is that we tend to expect these near soft-core porn shoots from female athletes at this point, and we more often than not project those expectations onto any image of a female athlete that is showing more skin than normal. i'm pretty much as unpuritannical as i can be, but i think our society is a bit oversexed, and this is a result.

as for the outside magazine comment, it really depends. if you're showing a picture of kelly slater (surfer) or michael phelps (the swimmer) shirtless, it's not really scandalous...thats the uniform for their sport. if they were in g-strings...that's a different story.

Jen said...

Geesh what's up with all the anonymous folks...don't be shy!

Anyhow, I have to admit that seeing women in action that have a athletic bodies has inspired me. It gave me something to aim for. I don't think I'm ever going to get that "ripped" for lack of a better word. Yet, seeing them made me think wow that's a body of action!
I agree with with anonymous when you say it gives you mixed feelings. In my first reply I mentioned my affiliation, it's that focus I take issue with.
After I wrote that I went to the main page and took a look and I would say that there is an attempt to "see" other people.
Now, if we are talking about SI and other womens fitness mags, in my mind they are mostly posers and just taking women down the same road as our Top Models.
What's is funny to me is that I don't find the picture on IM's page suggestive at at all. He's just doing his thing and you can tell that. Also, I hang out with male cyclist and so you just get used to seeing guys in tights.

Krista said...

The big issue for me is that for women, fitness is frequently so divorced from performance. The problem isn't the presence of pictures of great bodies (which, hey, I don't discourage), but rather that appearance is often the ONLY thing that matters for representing women's fitness and sports. We don't see a wide range of bodies and body types represented, nor do we see as much of a focus on achievement, performance, or just plain DOING the sport as we should. So women think fitness = looking good in a bikini.

That being said, let's be the change we want to see. Big props to folks like Jen and Ironmaven for featuring women actually doing stuff.

Jody said...

FYI, the picture is of Ivan Stoitsov, a Bulgarian weightlifter and 2007 World Champion in the 77kg class.

Kim said...

Whether it's a positive or a negative, it seems that male athletes more often appear showing skin outside of the US. As far as I can tell, most elite male speed skaters have been photographed nude or nearly so in the Netherlands. Professional rugby and soccer teams have been featured in their underpants or less in France. And so on.

I don't necessarily need to see naked rugby players, but I do think an environment where a male athlete can be depicted in this way and still be respected as an athlete is probably also more respectful of female athletes...vs. an environment where women appear in bikini shots and men appear in sport uniforms.