You expect to see naked (or near naked) women on the cover of Playboy. On the cover of ESPN magazine? Not so much.
When our family’s copy of Outside magazine arrived recently, the cover made me look twice, and not in a good way. The cover photo of female climber Alex Puccio shows off her impressive abs between the parts of her bikini, and also a tousled head of hair and come-hither expression.
Inside the feature story, headlined “Exposure Special: XX Factor,” is a big picture of a Torah. Not the Jewish holy scroll, but rather an Olympic snowboarder named Torah Bright, who wears only a sweater and manages to look as inviting as a Playboy bunny.
ESPN magazine arrived a day later, with a dozen naked women on the cover. The women are members of the USA water polo team, and in the centerfold — yes, an actual centerfold — is the team frolicking to and fro underwater, totally and utterly naked.
ESPN magazine’s “Body Issue” main feature is called “Bodies We Want,” and has naked photos of 19 individual athletes: men and women, from a shot of pro surfer Kelly Slater running naked through a park to 73-year-old U.S. Masters record-holding swimmer Jeff Farrell, in addition to the polo team mermaids.
Not all the athletes are Vogue-cover beautiful; Olympic gold medal-winning bobsledder Steven Holcomb is barrel-bellied and round-rumped, and 63-year-old Track & Field Masters World Champion Phillippa Rashker looks like a lithe, muscular 63-year-old.
But you get the feeling that they have been included as tokens.
Don’t get me wrong: I was riveted by the photos and have no doubt that this will be the best-selling issue that ESPN magazine has on the newsstand all year. As impressive as these athletes’ physical prowess may be, the nudity still feels gratuitous and even a bit exploitative. Digitally-enhanced, unrealistically idealized images of womanhood are everywhere. But I don’t expect to see them on the covers of sport magazines.
Of course sports magazines present ideal representations of physical success: anyone featured in those magazines has achieved tremendous success in one physical endeavor or other. And lots of them have gorgeous bods. But is that what they want to be remembered for, more than their athletic accomplishments?
There has lately been a push by some to show the unretouched photos of models and celebrities whose totally Photoshopped images are what most of see. This recent feature on Madonna in Jezebel shows the before pics of her Dolce & Gabbana ad campaign in all their gnarly glory right next to the finished product. They are nearly as riveting as the naked athletes’ pics. And in this excellent YouTube video, Cindy Crawford is quoted as having said that even she doesn’t look like the “Cindy Crawford” we see in advertisements.
The trend toward more honesty about the reality of what most people – even beautiful people – look like is to be applauded. The naked athlete spreads? Not so much.