Yesterday, I predicted the Lindsey Vonn-SI cover controversy, despite a brief lull, wasn’t over yet. And you’re about to see why. Say what you will about Vonn, but she is making the most of her “Olympic moment”-as well she should. This is a clever woman who knows how to take advantage of opportunities; earlier this month, she opened, in timely fashion, her own online store.
What sparked the controversy was a cover. But what stirs the embers now is inside; namely, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I’m not naive enough to think for a moment that sexuality and aesthetics have ever been divorced from athletics, or that they should be. Thus I’m more often than not pleased when SI includes female athletes in its swimsuit edition (which is usually dominated by hackneyed images of weedy, yet nonetheless busty, “supermodels”).
But neither am I naive enough to think that female athletes, when they do appear, are always presented fairly, that is, in a way consistent with their status as world-class athletes: photos airbrushed to hide muscles, submissive poses, and so forth are forever a problem. Diversity (are all great female athletes blond-haired and white?-sometimes one wonders) has been a problem too; but not one without welcome exceptions, e.g., Venus and Serena Williams.
So what to make of all this? It isn’t so much that female athletes are being “sexualized” (for you can’t make one what one already is), it is the way in which their sexuality is presented. Too often their athleticism and strength is downplayed, or hidden altogether. It’s as though we as a society still can’t, in 2010, appreciate that a woman can be attractive and powerful both at once.
A few thoughts to keep in mind, anyway. Now may the tumult resume: