Friday, February 12, 2010

How Some Want "Beautiful Athlete" to Become an Oxymoron

This is the magazine cover that has launched a thousand feminist diatribes about the objectification of female athletes.

The blog post behind that link indicates that only 4% of Sports Illustrated covers over the past 60 years have featured women. One would assume that this includes the swimsuit issue, although it's odd that the blogger, a Dr. Nicole LaVoi, would do so, since she could have then attacked SI for only featuring "women athletes" on less than half that number.

And with controversies like this popping up every time an attractive female athlete appears on a magazine cover, is it any wonder SI doesn't make a greater effort? Sure, the kerfuffle kicked up by these feminazis is not bad for SI's circulation, but once all is totaled, is it really worth all the derisive hate mail that the magazine is bound to receive?

Simply because Vonn is pretty (seriously, she's got a real Christie Brinkley thing happening on this cover), any depiction of her on a magazine other than an actual in-race action shot is automatically a Cro-Magnon sexualization, according to blogs like Dr. LaVoi's and others. If a woman's face looks like the north end of a southbound mule, then...what? Is that proof enough that she's gaining notoriety for her athletic ability and not for more prurient reasons? Are a terrible complexion or hideous scar or grotty teeth essential to be truly respected, and not just a sex object?

Sports Illustrated is getting lumped in with Maxim here, and that's a little bit unfair. Examine the cover's caption.

"America's BEST Woman Skier Ever". 

Does it say "America's HOTTEST Woman Skier Ever"? Nope. Is Lindsey a skiing Kournikova, ONLY making magazine covers because she's beautiful? Her resume's more stacked than she is, merely lacking the Olympic medals that seem to elude her primarily because...well, off the slope, the girl's a bloody klutz.

Is the photo of Lindsey oversexualized? Only if you think this one is.

The wet shirt clearly is gratuitous, meant to draw attention to Michael Phelps' sculpted abdominal region. Disagreement is a sign of a clear double standard. At least Lindsey's SORT OF in uniform. But wait...Michael Phelps' uniform has been, on occasion, a tiny pair of Speedo trunks. But there's no potential for the sexualization of a muscular, usually wet guy in a Speedo, is there?

As is often the case, feminism attempts to trumpet freedom of a woman's will, but goes about it in exactly the wrong way. Excoriating female athletes for using ALL of the genetic gifts they were given is an attempt to stifle the athlete's mainstream potential, merely to make some political statement about the athlete refusing to have her career dictated to her by the impulses of the male loins. All it says is that these women are blonde airhead bimbos who have to have men plotting everything, up to how many squares of toilet paper they use to wipe their asses.

Of course, now Lindsey and three other Winter Olympians have well and truly crossed the picket line, haven't they? This is tantamount to treason to their gender, is it not? Unless someone placed a gun to their heads and ordered them to put on swimsuits (or less) and pose with their skis, that is. Free will is only free when you agree with the decisions made, is that it?

At the finish line, it's all about an athlete being able to make a living at their craft. The purses in skiing aren't quite on par with those in tennis or golf, so why does anyone feel the need to step on Lindsey Vonn's chance to make her living using every tool at her disposal? News flash, Dr. LaVoi: Lindsey and Hannah Teter and Lacy Schnoor and Clair Bidez are trading on looks and talent while they have them, because both are ephemeral. They'll both be gone eventually, and if these ladies can get paid in full right now, making a better future for themselves and their children, so be it.

I perfectly get that Dr. LaVoi's approaching the issue from a "what's good for sport and subsequently for society" point of view. What I don't get is how a young girl in rural Minnesota whose parents don't have the money or the inclination to connect their house to the Internet is supposed to find role models who aren't getting respect from the mainstream media (i.e. Sports Illustrated). If Susie can't connect to some skiing or tennis or golf website for detailed research, then about who in her favorite sport is she going to hear? Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova, and Natalie Gulbis, that's who.

Holding attractive athletes like Vonn up as examples of what is wrong with women's sport is not only denigrating to the work they put in to reach a world-class level, but also denying the truism that without some kind of hook, how will the sport reach its greatest potential audience?

Lindsey Vonn is that hook for the Winter Olympics right now. And instead of decrying the fact that the media are objectifying female athletes (for about the 245,349th time since women began playing sports competitively around a century ago), why not come to an understanding that the athletes are, in the end, objectifying themselves with a very specific purpose in mind?

Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva may have said it best when she said, "If we are ugly then no one will be interested." And if no one's interested, then what happens to a sport, male or female?

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