Posing Nude: A Sad Day For Female Athletes Everywhere, Courtesy of ESPN

Posing Nude: A Sad Day For Female Athletes Everywhere, Courtesy of ESPN

I typically don’t get into the Should Women Pose Nude debate because frankly, I’ve got better things to do than duke it out over whether nudity is exploitative, Americans are too puritanical, or I’m an oversensitive feminist. Plus, after you’ve pushed a baby out of your vagina in front of a bunch of strangers and whipped out a breast or two to nurse her at the Cheesecake Factory, you just don’t see nakedness the same way.

So despite my ambivalence, or maybe because of it, I find the U.S. Olympic Women’s Indoor Volleyball team’s decision to pose sans clothes in ESPN magazine to be pretty stupid. If they want to be appreciated for all of their hard work and show how that dedication has impacted their bodies, how about pictures of, um… let me think about it here…. this is a tough one… them playing volleyball? Working out at the gym? How about doing anything other than sitting uncomfortably with their arms, legs and hair hiding their breasts and genitalia?

Good luck to all of the moms and dads out there who have to explain to their girls why the team decided to strip down for a magazine read mostly by men. I can just picture the conversations: "Well yes, sweetie, people should be judged based on their performance, but sometimes women need to get naked to sell magazines." Or "How you look doesn't matter. Unless you're female, that is." Or how about this one, "Yes, you too can realize your dreams, dear daughter, but sorry – you may have to pose nude in a national publication to do so."

This piece by Samantha Shultz, called Empowerment, sums it up better than I can. Here’s a link to her original article.

Empowerment

~By Samantha Shultz, July 10, 2012

Despite strong opinions from myself and those on Facebook, I never touched the Time magazine article about breastfeeding. And generally, I leave the blogosphere free of controversy or debate.

But when I saw this link to a photograph and article about the U.S. Women's Volleyball Team and their recent "feature" in ESPN magazine, I couldn't help but weigh-in.

I'll sum up my thoughts as this:

Nudity doesn't somehow equal empowerment.

At first glance, a photographer (and even lay persons) may agree that the photograph is "tastefully" done. But these aren't supermodels. These aren't high paid actresses. They are members of the U.S. Women's Volleyball Team. They have been chosen for their athletic ability to represent the United States in the Olympic games. They are powerful, strong, athletic women.

And yet, in one photograph, in one magazine feature, we have stripped them down to the bare natural essence of womanhood by using nudity.

ESPN magazine - geared primarily towards men - has chosen to feature strong women athletes as sex objects - using strategically placed hands, legs, and hair and later silhouettes of their bare bodies to illicit images of ___________. You fill in the blank. I certainly don't believe it's to show off how "athletic" they are or how hard they've worked.

Wendy of Families in the Loop said something in her Facebook post that also struck me, "What a bummer that the women agreed to it."

And as I thought more about this, I wondered the same. After reading the article, I was further troubled.

"I was a little nervous about doing the shoot, but looking back, I'm glad I did it," said team member Megan Hodge. "I thought it was a cool, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the world the work we put in every day."

Really? You thought that showing yourself in a nude state shows the world the work you put into training and playing every day? I somehow don't see the connection. If you mean to show off your killer abs or rock-hard thighs, surely there are other outfits that would accentuate all that "hard work" without wearing nothing. I also don't think this sends the right message to the rest of the world either.

Another team member had this to say:

"My fiancé wanted to be at the shoot because he thought other men ... were going to be there," said Destinee Hooker. "He doesn't like the thought of others seeing me nude, but it's an opportunity of a lifetime."

Kudos to that fiancé for somehow thinking something was a bit off, but I wonder why his concern simply stopped at a photo shoot. Obviously, his future wife would be featured in a nationally-known and read magazine and it would be more than a few male photographers who would see her this way.

I'm all for empowering women, but I just don't see how this does it. This issue isn't about shaming sexuality and the controversy really doesn't lie there. It's about taking women, who have bucked the trend by becoming professional athletes, and reinforcing the ill-conceived notion that women are nothing more than sex objects.

I don't care to hear the argument about "selling magazines" either. Regardless of ESPN's motivations, I truly wish these women would have stood up and felt empowered to say no regardless of the consequences.

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    I'm guessing you wrote this in anger before acquiring the full facts and realizing that there were more men than women who posed naked in this ESPN issue.

  • In reply to Drew Davis:

    Thanks for your comment, Drew. I am disappointed that any athlete feels he/she has to pose naked to gain attention and help media companies sell magazines. This isn't celebrating women's bodies - it's using them.

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    I think that's a fair argument, and we can agree on that. I was just taking exception to the sole focus of your post on female athletes.

  • In reply to Drew Davis:

    I believe the actual count is 17 women and 10 men.

  • In reply to WhirledPeas:

    The point is not how many men vs. women are naked. The point is that the volleyball players in this photo are being gawked at for something other than their athletic skills. And in posing nude in a group photo that isn't even artistically interesting, these women are subtly (or not so subtly) saying that this exploitation is acceptable.

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    In reply to Drew Davis:

    I don't want people like this representing me. I believe in athletes should do athletics. Let kim Kardashian handle the desperation for attention stunts.
    These people are a disgrace. Adults acting like bad little kids, and other "adults" excusing it. Guess you get a charge from seeing this garbage. No fixing that I suppose.

  • Thanks, Drew! I appreciate your comments!

  • I guess you close your eyes when you visit the Art Institute. And please don't peek at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It will appall you.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Ha, good one! Nudity doesn't bother me (as I state clearly in the post). Exploiting women to sell magazines does.

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    Gee, if being naked is no big deal--and it ain't--why the big deal? They are athletes proud of their bodies. We have stripped them down to proper diet and exercise regime; something many Americans could do well to emulate. That soda will add unneeded calories and unneeded weight. Get out there on the volley ball court, get in the gym, lift those weights, walk that mile a day and then walk around in public naked with a bodacious bod for all to admire. Yes, the naked body is an aesthetic experience for people to admire.

  • Thanks for the illuminating comment, Steve. I'll go right now to the gym so I can make myself look like a professional athlete and then it will no longer matter that women are portrayed as sex objects in the media. Wow, why didn't I think of that.

  • I was getting all ready to passionately disagree with you, but you make such an informed, nuanced point. I guess we just have a difference of opinion.

    I guess I see this as more of a positive portrayal of the human body that contrasts with the objectification that you see in most advertising. If nothing else, it demonstrates a variety beyond the typical photo-shoped ideal. I agree that the volleyball picture seems kind of silly, but there where examples in an article I was reading somewhere else (it must be a slow news day), and they did feature athletes doing their respective sports.

  • In reply to Lamdba:

    "I was getting all ready to passionately disagree with you, but you make such an informed, nuanced point. I guess we just have a difference of opinion."

    You should teach a class on commenting. Nice job.

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    It seems a bit disengenuous to worry about one nude picture when these women are forced to play the game in skin tight bikinis. I'm sure they allow freedom of movement, but women basketball players move just fine in the loose shorts and tops like men have.
    I find the nude photo less exploitive than the uniforms. The only problem I'd have is if any of them were pressured into posing nude.

  • I have to agree that it is unfortunate and sad that women in sports get more recognition for their physical appearance rather than their talent and ability. One only has to attend a NASCAR Nationwide series race to notice that Danica Patrick a mid pack talent has 2 trailers of paraphernalia for sale, while no other driver has even one. Point is, sex sells. It is reality. Sadly Martina Navratilova & Steffi Graff made far less in endorsements than Anna Kournikova. Martina and Steffi arguably best female tennis players in history, while Anna was an attractive woman who oh by the way, played professional tennis.
    In defense of the female athlete, if given the opportunity, pose nude, do it. Sadly you can barely scratch out a living playing basketball, track or indoor volleyball.

  • I really appreciate all of the comments, Everybody. You've definitely made me think about why I responded so strongly and negatively to the photo, especially since I don't care have much to say about women posing naked in other non-pornographic publications.

    What stands out for me is that the photo doesn't truly celebrate these women and their beautiful bodies. Instead, all you really notice are legs and arms and the fact that they’re trying to cover themselves. There are countless other poses that would have better shown their assets, if that was in fact what ESPN was going for. Perhaps if we gave our athletes the recognition, respect and financial compensation they deserve in the first place, they wouldn’t feel the need to strip down. Thanks again for making me think!!

  • Women have been viewed as "sex objects" from the beginning of time. No amount of complaining or covering up will ever change that. It's biological - men are going to look at the best looking, fittest, healthiest women. What is wrong with making money off of this fact?

    I don't think it's wrong at all. The female athletes look 100x better than the airbrushed "reality" celebrities that are on magazine covers every week. They work hard and treat their bodies right in order to look that great. Why not show it off!!! Good for them!

  • Goofyjj, your comment made me smile (a sad smile) because of its goofiness. We also lived in a society where women couldn't own property, couldn't vote, and whose marriages were a financial alliance more than anything else. Yet we evolved. I hope I don't have to tell you that objectification of women leads to issues that are harmful for all of society. Do you have a daughter? If so, do you want her to be treated as a person with a brain or as a woman whose body was created solely for the purpose of pleasing a man? I hope I know your answer.

  • No I don't have a daughter. But if I did and she was in the Body Issue of ESPN I'd be proud. I'd rather have a daughter being celebrated for being a great athlete that has gotten her body into it's best phsyical condition than to be some camera-whore reality "celebrity" that has not other reason to be in the public eye than for the fact that they're in the public eye.

    The Body Issue celebrates athletes - male and female - that have gotten into top physical form. Not unlike a statue or a painting - these photos are indeed art. There's nothing dirty or negative about them....

    Second point - I understand that we have evolved from not being able to vote and from being property. But the fact is men are biologically hardwired to look at women's asthetics. That will never change. If we accept that, and move on to things more important than looks, we - as women - can keep accomplishing great things.

  • P.S. I only used "sex objects" as it was used previously. The phrase has been used positively and negatively as a description. I personally don't have a problem with the phrase...

    As far as "pleasing a man" - what's wrong with looking great for you. or your husband/boyfriend?

  • Goofyjj, you make some very good points while missing the bigger picture entirely. I, too, would be proud of my daughter if she were being celebrated for her athleticism. And yes, that would be much preferable to the faux reality stars baring everything. But that is not what this photo is doing. I don’t see gorgeous abs, strong thighs or killer arms, I just see their nakedness. And that’s not interesting or aesthetically pleasing, even for guys who are hardwired to enjoy it.

    Now speaking of men being hardwired, I both agree and disagree with you. Yes, men will always want to admire beautiful women. But if we’re not careful, that’s all women will be admired for. If you read just about anything by Nicholas Kristof or others who write about the exploitation of women, you’ll see there’s a fine line between appreciation and objectification.

    And one last thing - if a woman looks great primarily because her husband/boyfriend wants her to, I can pretty much guarantee her self esteem isn't where it should be. I don't look a certain way to please my husband - I look good for myself. And guess what - that's how it should be.

  • The Olympians posing nude was an effort to portray their bodies as the beautiful tools they are. These athletes spend so much time crafting their bodies to achieve the best result. Yes, people will deduce that this photo was taken to exploit sexuality in people's minds. But I think its up to each individual to see it for what its worth.

    Additionally, I guess I don't see the difference in nudity to garner attention compared to the descriptive words you have used such as, "pushed a baby out of your vagina in front of a bunch of strangers and whipped out a breast."

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    The problem with nudity in this culture is that people equate it with "sexually available." Anytime someone gets naked, people think, "oh no! It's getting sexy!" Naked doesn't equal sex any more than a plate of food equals obesity. Frankly, as long as the magazine is also featuring nude men, I'm all for it. I do agree that media outlets are a lot more comfortable with undressing women, and I'd like to see men similarly unadorned. There's so much shame about the male body and it's one thing I really enjoy about Chicago summers: shirtless men on the lake front.

    The fact is, women are always going to be judged for how we look and as long as women are willing to hold men to the same standards (and not marry or date bald, overweight men) then maybe men would work a little hard on their physiques. After all, it's the imbalance in standards that you're upset about, right? That women get used as sex objects ALL THE TIME and are subject to undue pressure to be thin and young, right? Change your mindset and put the pressure on the fellas.

  • In reply to Ruby Red:

    "Naked doesn't equal sex any more than a plate of food equals obesity."

    Well said, Ruby Red.

  • Ruby Red has some great points, and the only reason that any of this is noteworthy at all is because we have all been taught at one point or another that nudity is dirty, wrong, or purely sexual... basically that it has to MEAN something other than the simple presentation of a natural human form. Wendy, I know you're tired of "duking this out," but it's unavoidable because it really is the crux of all these issues. (By the way, I think "puritanical" more aptly describes our general attitude toward nudity than "provincial.") If you ever go to a nude beach, it can be very enlightening. It seems counter-intuitive, but it's one of the only places where nudity doesn't matter at all.

  • It's a good thing sex doesn't sell to women like it does to men.

    I hear Playgirl magazine just went bankrupt, and Magic Mike had to be pulled from theatres because no women were going to see it.

    Chippendales dancers around the world are starving and homeless.

    Your point might have some validity if you also objected to the male ATHLETES who posed nude in the same magazine. As is, it comes across as complete hypocrisy to me.

    Just my stupid opinion, of course.

  • All great comments everyone. And yes, Southloop, I meant puritanical. Glad this has sparked conversation. I don't have much new to add except to say again that I'm not against nudity - I just don't think this photo of the volleyball team represents anything other than ESPN trying to sell magazines and spark a controversy (which they've accomplished here). Thanks again for sharing your opinions.

  • Whatever floats their boat! If they are proud of the bodies their hard work has given them and want to show off what they have been given, then I say go ahead, but let's hope they are really stacked!

  • In reply to RufusVonDufus:

    Thanks for the profound comment, Rufus I'm sure I don't have to tell you how much women love when men notice their breasts. In fact, that's probably what the players were hoping for as they prepared for the Olympics. Forget about representing their country and inspiring others... they just want a bunch of horny dudes who go by names like RufusVonDufus to notice that they're "stacked" when they flip the pages of ESPN magazine.

  • I'd rather have a daughter being celebrated for being a great athlete that has gotten her body into it's best phsyical condition than to be some camera-whore reality "celebrity" that has not other reason to be in the public eye than for the fact that they're in the public eye.
    ..................................................
    What a great comment, goofi!

  • I could understand this being an issue if these women were pressured into posing or felt they had no other options. I think the artistic nature of the pose is a mater of opinion but I don't think the pose itself is sexually suggestive in any way unless nudity in and of itself is sexy.
    I think many athletes men and women, as ESPN has shown in their publications tend to be proud of their bodies, if anything at all was exploited I'd say it was vanity.

  • In reply to Dell80:

    Great points, Dell80. The way they've posed is not sexy and doesn't say anything other than they decided to strip down. So why do it? Isn't there a better way to celebrate these athletes' bodies other than having them pose naked?

  • women you look great .. the pix is in good taste and yoyr bodies are fab .. if i were young and that in shape i would the same thing ,, best of luck ladies!

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    I don't agree with you, but I will congratulate you on creating an interesting discussion thread.

    The reason I don't agree with you is that you've ignored the greater context (the fact that ESPN's 'body issue' featured both men and women) in order to state your indignation/disappointment/disapproval (can't remember your original words) about women being portrayed this way. Selecting particular facts and ignoring others is certainly a common practice, but it leaves the writer quite open to criticism and objection. Look, I didn't like the body issue either, and I have no doubt it's little more than a marketing tool on ESPN's side. That said, there were plenty of male athletes posing nude too, so why make it an issue about the women?

    I consider it possible that i fail to understand the psychic baggage that many women carry around regarding inequality, and I wouldn't argue that there are very compelling reasons for the origination of this psychic baggage. In the end, though, each and every person consciously or unconsciously contributes to either holding onto this or letting it go, with their greater happiness depending on which way they want to go. Best to you, Wendy@Families in the Loop.

  • These are world class athletes that have spent their entire lives developing their bodies to do things that are superhuman. Their dedication to their craft is something to be admired. They can do things we will never be able to because of their remarkable bodies. They are proud of them and the work they have put in. If they want to show themselves to the world, I commend their bravery. World class athletes represent such a microscopic portion of the population. We simply don't see bodies like this because so few exist. It's human nature to want to see/hear the best of the best: the best actors act, singers sing, etc. It's human achievement to be the best and we celebrate it all the time. Why should the human body be any different?

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    Wendy,
    I coached high school and junior high volleyball for many of the almost 40 years I taught in the public schools. You are right on with this column. This is not what I want to see my players subject to. The posing has absolutely nothing to do with promoting this sport nor the work that goes into becoming a top notch athlete. It positively is exploiting these ladies, even if they "willingly" posed. I'm amazed that at least one of them didn't just refuse to do it. Poor role models for the sport and the upcoming future players, Very disappointing.

  • In reply to Rich Sullivan:

    I really appreciate your comment, Rich Sullivan. I've heard so many times in the last week about how the team's posing nude is no big deal that it almost made me question why I published this post in the first place. Almost. Thanks for reminding me not to cave in to popular opinion and for sharing with us the perspective of a coach who knows exactly what these women go through.

  • I would think that this would be good for women... instead of creepy nasty super model types you promote healthy athletic women. It may seem crude, but it's a start in the right direction... I have the issue and I don't find any of the pictures to be sexual at all...

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