The ESPN Body Issue is out, along with the complaints that female athletes are being exploited instead of being honored for their athletic prowess.
I’d see their point if this were, say, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which has as much to do with sports as American Idol has to do with baroque music. It really isn’t even much of an ad for swimwear. It’s not much more than an excuse to show fantastically beautiful women wearing very little so we can check them out.
In the case of the Body Issue, it is hard to see it as exploitative of women, at least not in particular. Of the 36 pictures on the web, 19 are men. Yep, most of the pictures are of male athletes. The quote from soccer player Carlos Bocanegra is not about his athletic career, it’s about how great his legs look.
If you are going to see it as objectification, at least it is equal opportunity.
But beyond that, the photographs are quite beautiful. One of the athletes pictured is paralympic rower Oksana Masters. She wears prosthetic legs, and is photographed both with and without them. Our traditional standards say not beautiful, but the tasteful nude photographs show a great deal of beauty.
So, I don’t get the complaints. If pictures of nude women are by definition exploitative, it doesn’t leave room for a lot of art from the last 5000 or so years.