Empowerment.

Warning: This post may or may not spark a debate, but I wanted to state my opinions nonetheless. No photographs will be shown, but merely links to articles with photographs.

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.

Samantha

Comments

  1. I feel so opinionated about issues like this, too! Here’s why. These women are some of the best in the WORLD at what they do. These women are world class athletes, who have spent most of their lives working toward this.

    Yet, we’re still saying it’s their sexuality and appearance that matters most. That doesn’t empower women! It belittles us into sex objects.

    It really, really breaks my heart that a woman can be a world leader, a world class athlete, a professor… yet people still judge them based on their looks. A few days ago, there was a picture of some Olympic athlete online throwing a javelin. People were posting raunchy comments describing her butt, and others were criticizing her “flat chest,” and all I could think about was that this woman is an Olympic athlete, one of the best in the WORLD, but what people are talking about is how flat her chest is. What the heck?! Are people serious?

    I’m a mother to a little girl, and it is so upsetting to know that she can be literally the best in the world at something, but people are still going to critique her based on how she looks. People should be ashamed of themselves.

    I hate how people try to argue that women being a sex object is empowering. It’s not. It’s degrading. Women are more than their ability to arouse men. It’s sickening that no matter how amazing a woman is, no matter how talented she is, people are going to judge her by her appearance.

    The volleyball team taking those nude photos–it just adds to that. To me, it says, “Yes, I’m one of the best volleyball players in the entire world, but I still need to be attractive to matter.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    No, nudity does not necessarily equal empowerment, unless it does for a specific individual. But nudity also does not necessarily have to equate the subject as a sexual object. Why do tasteful, nude photographs have to have anything to do with sex? Is it not possible for the unadulterated human body (female or male) to be appreciated for what it is: a thing of beauty, a work of art, an expression of divinity and naturality and humanness? One of the biggest reasons there could even be any controversy over a bunch of athletes tastefully showing their bodies in nude photographs is because of the ridiculous hangups Americans have over the human form, the shame associated with it, the guilt over the natural body and its natural processes.

    No, posing nude does not automatically empower a person.

    Nor does it automatically turn that person into a sexual object.

    Both can happen, one can, or neither.

    In the end, what I think is most important is that this shouldn’t be such a big deal. The natural human body should not be such a cause of controversy.

  3. Obviously a woman feminist wrote this article! LOL One who appears to be jealous of the fact that these women are comfortable in their own skin. They have worked very hard to stay in shape and play at the highest levels, which requires being in incredible athletic shape. It seems tasteless of you to ridicule your own sex for staying in phenomenal shape and being an example to other women, that if you work hard you can have similar bodies to these ladies. Don’t take away from their hard work and tenacity to stay in shape because most likely you do not share that same work ethic. These photos published have been tastefully done, with a feminine grace and are not in any way ‘pornographic’ to an unbiased person. Remove your own jealousy and if you don’t like it, that’s fine it’s THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! And quite honestly you don’t have to approve. Thank you

  4. Thank you for the responses. I’d specifically like to direct myself to “pacounterexpert” since there was no email address attached to your comment.

    I’d first like to say, since you so strongly pointed out, that this is the United States of America and I am entitled to my opinion. I didn’t tell anyone that they had to take my opinion and I have every right to disapprove and write about it on my own family’s blog.

    Second, if you talked to my family and friends, you’d know that I’m probably the farthest thing from a feminist so your “LOL” is quite adequate as far as that is concerned.

    I’m not jealous of anyone. Kudos to them for working out. On the contrary, I admire their dedication to their craft and to pushing their bodies to the ultimate limit. I admire them for bucking the trend in a male-dominated world to pursue something in the sports world and excel at it.

    Also, I doubt that people are looking at these rock hard bodies (who by the way, don’t need to be nude to show how toned they are) and thinking about how they can have bodies like that.

    You say, “Don’t take away from their hard work and tenacity to stay in shape.” That’s exactly what this photograph does. It brings them back to the most basic natural form – the human form. It doesn’t exemplify their hard work – it doesn’t do anything to really show what they do in general, apart from a few strategically placed volleyballs.

    Thank you, though, for responding in a way that makes it sad to live in the USA – aggressive, attacking, and with ignorant insults.

  5. It just shows how biased your point of view is on this entire topic. First off, you used the number one phrase of feminists when you wrote “male-dominated world”.

    Additionally, I don’t know how you would back up such an argument when there are more women who play volleyball then men in the United States, and most likely the world.

    Also, why did you single out the women who posed from the USA women’s volleyball team to ridicule and pass judgement upon when several other past and current olympians posed for this same years photo shoots. (Walter Dix, Danell Levya, Tyson Chandler, Anna Tunnicliffe, Abby Wambach, etc.) Not to mention many who have posed in previous years.

    If anything I think it was more tasteful and classy having seven women from one team pose together, rather than just one team member pose by themselves. It created a more unified feeling, rather than one person ‘starving’ for attention as your side would be more justified to argue.

    Further more, I think you are wrong to doubt that people viewing these photos are merely looking at them through some sort of perversion as it feels you are insinuating throughout your posts. Being able to view all of these athletes the way they came into this world (nude), with the appreciation of how hard they have worked, in addition to being able to see and understand the specific muscles more accentuated and toned because of their sport makes me want to focus my training even more based on what sports I may play/enjoy.

  6. I just want to point out that there were nude male athletes in the article as well. It’s ESPN’s annual “Body Issue”, which is ESPN’s answer to SI’s Swimsuit Issue (which is much more sexual in nature). I absolutely hate the Body Issue, but I think the decision of these athletes to participate should be defended. In my opinion, each one of these athletes owes absolutely nothing to any particular “higher cause,” or any particular political purpose. The magazine itself has no obligation to uphold any particular set of values, as long as they stay within the law. I don’t find the poses in the issue to be the least bit sexual. I’m not going to argue that they’re tasteful either, but I don’t find them sexual. I see this as nothing more than a bunch of egotistical athletes who want to show off what they’ve got, and there are plenty of people who want to see it. But I don’t find that to be a sexual thing as much as it is an egotistical thing.

    These female athletes aren’t “bucking trends” to be top athletes in their sport. Their sport already exists, and is completely female. They have achieved what they’ve achieved through hard work and natural ability. I think it’s ridiculous for us to assume that they’ve overcome any greater odds to be at the top of their sport than it is for a comparable male athlete to be at the top of his sport. These women haven’t climbed a ladder to dominate in a man’s world, they’re dominating in a woman’s world. They are competing against other women. There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m just saying that they aren’t Jeannette Rankin or Manon Rheaume or anything, so you can’t expect them to carry that burden and the social responsibilities that come with it.

    Also, have you supported female athletes by buying tickets to go see a WNBA game? Or buying tickets to go watch a professional women’s soccer game? Are you contributing in any way to these women being recognized for what you think they should be recognized for?

    I understand any outrage towards Danika Patrick for selling out on those Go Daddy ads that are obviously sexually charged. Danika competes at a very high level in a very male dominated sport. I just feel that outrage towards these women in the Body Issue is a little misplaced.

  7. Nate,

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate being able to have an open and educated conversation about such topics and definitely see some of your points.

    ~Samantha

  8. No problem Samantha, and I understand some of your points as well. Believe me, I hate the Body Issue so much. Every time I get it in the mail, my reaction is usually “it’s been a year already?”

    To be 100% honest here, I was really irritated that Rob Gronkowski was on the cover totally naked with what appears to be a sticker over his genitals, but is actually a graphic on the image itself. The superimposed sticker even looks like it’s partially peeled back, which makes you wonder even further “is that really a sticker I can peel back to see his junk?” That’s clearly not “tasteful,” and it clearly implies that you should want to see his junk. Part of me thought “this is absurd,” and the other part of me thought “this is a magazine marketed to MEN, why did put a naked man on the cover?” So my confession here is that I would have much rather seen a woman on the cover.

    To make things even better, ESPN even censored the cover on their “SportCenter” television broadcast. I don’t know if they did this to generate buzz and sell some issues, but either way it’s an admission that it’s borderline inappropriate.

    I always hate the “but it’s tastefully done” argument, because I find it condescending. As if those “offended” by it have no appreciation for a naked body. I’m pretty sure we have that appreciation built into us. Personally, you’d be hard pressed to find an image that I find offensive. Corny, transparent, maybe pointless, but not offensive. But I’ve only got my point of view, and I’m going to defend it. I’ve heard plenty of great arguments from different point of views as well, and they’re just as important as my own.

  9. Katie Edwards says:

    I know I am a little late on the commenting, however, I get really irritated when the word ‘feminist’ is used as a ‘dirty’ word as a couple of the comments resorted to (pacounterexpert for example). A Feminist is by definition one who supports feminism, which simply is defined as advocacy for women’s rights. I do believe a very large percentage of our population (women and men) would define themselves as advocates for women’s rights, and thereby feminists. Making large sweeping generalizations about any group of people makes you look ignorant.

    That being said, I am amazed that people have problems with these photographs. I would argue it has little to do with empowerment, but even less about sex. ‘Nudity’ can mean so many things to different people, but at the very heart of it is our very own Human body. Perhaps the only thing universal throughout cultures and countries is the way our bodies literally move us and relate us to our world. In a sense if there is ‘a’ humanity it exists because we all have one of these ‘nude’ things. The images in ESPN show some of most poetic, harmonious feats ever done by human bodies. And frankly, I am a lot less concerned about my daughter picking up this issue of ESPN and seeing these images of women, then most of the other magazines on the rack.

  10. Katie,

    Thank you so much for your reply. I think your feminist definition is right on and I agree that the term ‘feminism’ has really had a negative connotation affixed to it over the years.

    I think your take on the magazine is unique and well-thought out. It’s a great point the dichotomy between the ESPN magazine and the other “trashy” magazines that you can find on the newsstands regularly. I guess part of what I was hoping is that they would stand out from those magazines rather than just being a “tasteful” version of what’s already out there, if that makes sense.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and I appreciate your ability to articulate yourself well.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Headline fails to deliver. Black and white photos? Really?? is this 1905? And where is the nudity?

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