The Naked Truth?

I found this interesting tid-bit the other day on Fox Sports online The Naked Truth: Beard not hurting sports. Apparently, Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard is posing nude (or has already posed nude) for Playboy. The male author of this article claims that Beard posing nude, as a commodity for the male gaze, is not hurting her sport or any other sports for that matter as female athletes aren’t so much considered athletes like their male counter parts but “famous people”:

Do they have to pose naked to become famous? Of course not — most famous female athletes have not posed nude. But are good looks a prerequisite for female athletes to become famous? Yeah, pretty much.

Granted, good looks are usually a prerequisite for most people to become famous — anybody except athletes.

And maybe that is what this tells us: We see famous male athletes as athletes, but we see famous female athletes simply as famous people. Most sports fans know who Amanda Beard is, but I would bet that at least 95 percent have no idea what her best stroke is. Michael Phelps is famous for being a great swimmer; Amanda Beard is famous for being an attractive swimmer, even though she has won seven medals in three Olympics and is preparing for her fourth trip to the Summer Games.

The author goes on to compare female athletes who pose for magazines of any variety to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models–the consumer (which is mostly male) wants to feel as though they “know” the individual posing. Apparently, a study showed that placing the name of the model beneath her picture in the SI issues that by this mere placement of a name a man felt that he knew the model, and that men are such simple creatures that this is all that they need (insert sarcasm here).

So… male athletes become a commodity and we remember them for their prowess on the field or court or whatever, but female athletes are commodified not because they are talented, but because they are physically beautiful.

If I was athletically inclined, and gifted to boot, I’d be incredibly offended by what this man has written. I would argue that the kind of spokesperson/advertising that is made available to female athletes is in no way shape or form comparable to that of males. Men are offered, for example, the opportunity to sell Campbells soup with their mommies while women are offered the opportunity to sell bras. Men become spokes people for shoe companies while women are offered the pages of Playboy. A woman is not the sum of her gift, but rather her body parts and if those body parts are too masculine, and therefore “scary” (think the William’s sisters) only then can they be remembered for their athletic talent?

Personally, I’d rather have Venus or Serena sell me a bra any day over Sharipova for the simple fact that I KNOW those two work their butts off on the court and therefore need something that is going to, er, strap them down, versus a beautiful face and willowy body that might be occasionally good at wacking the ball back over the net. Simply put: I’d rather buy products that I know have been tested, and survived that testing, rather than those that are hanging on a pretty body.

Comments

  1. Gategrrl says

    I seem to remember that way back in the mid to late seventies, Mark Spitz, also a Olympic level swimmer, had posters of him – with naked chest, posing to show off his pecs and arms, shoulders, etc. Same as all the other sexy athletes at that time – and starlets such as the Charlie’s Angels actresses.

  2. Purtek says

    And maybe that is what this tells us: We see famous male athletes as athletes, but we see famous female athletes simply as famous people.

    Famous bodies, really. And I’m not sure if he’s presenting this as a good thing or as a value-neutral statement of fact, and which option is worse.

    A hopeful counter-example, however: there are a few female hockey players from the Canadian national team who have become pretty well known *as athletes*. I’ve never heard anyone talk about them in terms of their looks, at all, and the one I’ll highlight, Cassie Campbell, is a conventionally attractive woman (not model-built, but certainly not overly “masculine” or “scary”). She’s been working as a commentator for CBC Hockey Night in Canada–decidedly a solid “old boys club” in many ways, and getting a ton of credit and respect from the other media personalities, the NHL players she’s interviewing and the viewing public for the fact that she knows the game, she offers great insight into the plays, and she’s extremely articulate. Around these parts, this is a big deal, and damn do I love Cassie Campbell.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    The original article blithers up one side and down the other, but concludes:

    This is why the notion that Beard is “hurting” women’s sports falls flat. She has posed previously in FHM, nearly naked. She has appeared in SI’s swimsuit issue (and not in her competition Speedo). Beard is not exchanging her athletic fame for the fame of a model — her athletic fame is the fame of a model.

    Now – referring to Gategrrl’s comment – is that how Mark Spitz was being perceived? I honestly don’t recall, so that’s not a rhetorical question. Was he a pretty boy who happened to be an athlete, or an athlete who happened to be a pretty boy?

    Is the general public perceiving all athletes as athletes first (then babes), or does it differ according to the gender of the athlete?

    I tend to think the men are perceived as athletes first and the women are usually perceived as babes first. I have to go back to Don Imus’ shit-talk about one team looking cute and the other looking rough, just before he made his infamous remark. Even before the remark, he was sitting there deciding which team is better qualified to get his pecker up, and you know, precisely wtf does that have to do with the job the athletes are doing?

  4. says

    This guy’s analysis of fame is clearly skewed by his own interests and perspective.

    He follows male sports because he’s interested in them, so he’s acutely aware of all of the details of which athlete did what. He (and/or his audience) doesn’t really follow women’s sports, so he’s aware of female athletes only in as much as they show up in popular culture. He then projects and assumes that everyone has the same interests as he does, and voila ! He finds that “male athletes become famous for being athletes, female athletes are famous as generic celebrities.”

    Let me tell you what I see as someone who has zero interest in any kind of sports whatsoever. As an experiment, I decided to clear my mind and think of the first things that pop into my head when I think of “female athletes.” Here’s the result:

    1. Martina Navratilova
    2. That horrid, racist Imus remark regarding the basketball team of my alma mater!
    3. The U.S. soccer team tends to perform well internationally.

    Then I decided to do the same for the idea of “male athletes,” and came up with the following:

    1. Michael Jordan
    2. Those other basketball guys, like… Shaq?
    3. O.J. Simpson

    Then that last one kind of reminded me of Mike Tyson…

    Those really are the first things that popped into my mind — I didn’t come up with my analysis first and then invent data to match. ;)

    My conclusion is that for sports that you’re interested in, the athletes are famous to you for their athletic feats. For sports you’re not interested in, the athletes are only famous to you inasmuch as they are generic famous people.

    This is true for male athletes as well as for female athletes. You can become famous entirely for athletic feats, however unrelated attributes — looks, charm, committing a high-profile crime — will affect how much fame you attain, and what kind.

    One difference is that men following male sports closely are much more common than anybody at all following female sports closely. (That’s part of why the author of this article has the illusion that everybody sees athletes the way he does.)

    It seems that interest in female sports is growing. But keep in mind that a huge part of following and identifying with a sports team has to do with family traditions and happy childhood memories of cheering for the home team (often with a parent). It takes time to build these traditions. I think that not so long ago, it was unheard of for a parent to encourage a girl who is interested in sports by taking her out to a (women’s) ballgame.

    Hopefully that is changing and the audience of women and girls who are passionate about women’s sports is growing. Logically, that should increase the market for female sports stars to have lucrative promotional opportunities where they’re selling the dream “you could be like me” just as their male counterparts do.

  5. says

    I must admit, whilst I think placing the blame on Beard in general is the wrong tack to take, I can’t help read this guy as ‘It’s not sexist, because of sexism!’

    That said, I think Purtek’s right in that there’s wiggle room as to whether he considers the latter sexism (though the fact that he doesn’t really acknowledge it as such is a flag, for me).

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    One difference is that men following male sports closely are much more common than anybody at all following female sports closely. (That’s part of why the author of this article has the illusion that everybody sees athletes the way he does.)

    That’s the line I was trying to draw.

    The only thing I would say is wrong with what Beard is doing is that she’s helping to establish a precedent. One TPTB in marketing convince a few women in a market to get naked, they start expecting it of all who follow.

    I.E., all Hollywood actresses who want on the A-list know they have to do nudity. If they refuse, they’re just “not serious” about their careers (with one token exception I can think of). The same requirement is not put upon male actors.

  7. says

    I wonder, if in part, the type of sports that a woman athlete participates in matter. For instance, Purtek’s example of Cassie Campbell. Campbell plays hockey which is not really as “sexy” a sport as say tennis where the women athletes are just as likely to be known for the shortness of their skirt or their bared midriff or some other equally body baring outfit (see this). Women hockey player are, in comparison, covered from head to toe in protective gear, and thus their faces and figures are obscurred and, perhaps, thus, they can be taken seriously and “roll” with the big boys.

    Also, I think in terms of men,they aren’t seen as bodies first and athletes second. I definitely think they are looked at for their abilities and then for their bodies. Its less of “wow this person is super sexy” and more of “holy cow, not only can this guy play ball, but he’s HOT too!” I think of Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, as an example. Sure, the man gets an insane amount of press–who’s he dating, where’s he been seen, what’s he going to do about impregnating Bridget Moynahan, ect.–but when it comes time for some serious football to be played, that takes a back burner. It’s all yards thrown and passes completed. And if he fails to deliver(as he did last year) his failure is not blamed on his inability to preform preform, but rather on the women in his life who MUST be distracting him. Compare that to Jennie Finch of the Women’s US Softball team who, when she played in the last Olympics (I think… I remember watching this on T.V) one of the first things out of most commentators (and interviewers) mouths was not her pitching statistics or game strategy, but rather questions about her engagement to then fiance. Then, once they’ve “gossiped” about her good fortune to be so happily engaged, then they moved on to questions about the game.

  8. SunlessNick says

    And I’m not sure if he’s presenting this as a good thing or as a value-neutral statement of fact, and which option is worse. - Purtek

    As a statement of fact, I think; like you I’m not sure which is worse, though I lean towards thinking it a good thing being worse.

    Is the general public perceiving all athletes as athletes first (then babes), or does it differ according to the gender of the athlete?
    I tend to think the men are perceived as athletes first and the women are usually perceived as babes first. - BetaCandy

    I think so too; after all, if the women were perceived as athletes first, men might have to find them admirble. Which is something they ought to have no difficulty doing, but whether it’s by social conditioning or not, they have a peculiar trouble with the concept.

    The last Olympics – where Kelly Holmes got Britain a couple of gold medals for sprinting – happened at roughly the same time as Ellen MacArthur broke the round-the-world solo yachting record. The different reactions to the pair of them were quite telling: while there were many who praised both of them, there was also a strong contingent of people who wanted to belittle MacArthur’s achievement.
    One thing I put that down to was that most people could run the distances that Holmes was racing, which might make it possible for someone to imagine competing with her – however much of a delusion that idea might be – it’s a “safe” achievement for a woman, because most men can pretend they could have done it too, given the time or inclination.
    On the other hand, MacArthur had done something most men couldn’t even attempt, let alone accomplish – there’s no sustaining the illusion, so her achievement has to be rubbished – or if it can’t, she must be.

    And, tying back to the article, a good way to rubbish a woman and her achievement is to pretend/decide that her achievement isn’t what she should be famous for, but rather her looks.

    Sorry, I digressed a bit. But I’ve always wanted a chance to rant about people dissing Ellen MacArthur.

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