I'm going to preface this piece by letting you know that I have been a fashion stylist working with athletes for the past 18 years for brands like Nike, Gatorade, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Honda, etc etc. I have dressed (and seen) the bodies of everyone from top swimwear models, to golfer Tiger Woods & NBA star Kobe Bryant, to pro surfer Bethany Hamilton and soccer superstar Mia Hamm.
Most likely due to my background in this industry, I am very open on what I feel is gratuitous sexual content, vs what I feel is artistic imagery that celebrates the athletic body.
I also realize that not everyone feels the same on either end of the spectrum - so I am politely asking you to have an open mind, and if you choose to leave a comment, be respectful of other peoples opinions that might be different than your own.
In 1999 USA soccer player Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey in celebration and elation after her game winning penalty kick against China at the Women's World Cup. Many people in sports understood the gesture, as they had seen it many times before with pro male soccer players. But this was the first time the world had witnessed a female athlete doing something like this in front of a huge audience and on national television. The response was fast & furious. Good and bad. The famous image by sports photographer, Robert Beck, is embedded in our minds. For me it is an iconic image of a strong female athlete in pure elation. To others it is still deemed risque because she is in her sports bra and shorts. And the world is still talking about it. ..
Back in 2005 Dove Soap created a campaign called "Real Beauty" the ads and video's featured women of all different sizes and shapes in basic white cotton bra's and underwear. The goal was to get women to feel good about themselves and their bodies, no matter what their size or shape. The campaign still runs and is much discussed even today due to the women's sizes, more than the lack of clothing - which I find interesting.
Had the models all been size 0-2 would have the response from both men and women been different? Something to think about.
In 2009 ESPN launched a special edition of the magazine called "The Body Issue". The issue was created in direct response to Sports Illustrated "Swimsuit" edition, which at the time featured only women in miniscule bikinis (or less) on beautiful beaches. ESPN decided to focus on both male and female, Olympic & pro athletes, and to shoot with well known and respected fashion photographers, to create images that celebrated the unique sizes and shapes that various athletes have.
At that time there were six alternative covers released, featuring both male and female pro athletes - Serena William for tennis, Adrian Peterson for the NFL, Dwight Howard from the NBA, Gina Carano for MMA, Sarah Reinertsen for Triathlon & Carl Edwards for NASCAR. It was less about "sex" and more about an amazing athletic body, the public seemed to say with their comments to ESPN.
Interesting enough, Serena Williams, who is not a size 2 nor tiny in stature like Gina Carano, but is majorly powerful and strong, was the highest selling cover that year.
In 2013 I worked on a big campaign featuring (one of ESPN's 2015 Body Issue athletes) pro baseball player Bryce Harper. It was a beautiful shoot for Under Armour that was done in Las Vegas, high up in a penthouse suite, & resulted in this stunning image of Bryce. I posted this ad on my various social media outlets when it ran, and had nothing but positive response to the shots from both males and females.
What if this had been a female athlete? How would the response have differed?
In 2014 skateboarder Natalie Krishna Das thought up and executed a conceptual photo shoot where girls were shredding pools and a gorgeous man was scantily clad poolside holding grapes as they rode by. People loved it. Women "oohed and awed" over the guy, and both men and women in the skateboard industry thought it was very "tongue in cheek" and loved the photos. Pure role reversal but without the discord.
For many years, and I mean many years, there have been ads in action sports magazines glorifying sex, and portraying women as objects rather than athletes. Which I am not going to publish pics of here, as I don't see any reason to give those companies any free press.
The funny thing is I don't see many people writing letters to the editors or companies, or taking away skate or surf magazines from their kids and saying publicly it's wrong. Which I find very interesting.
Today's photo of Leticia brought up a lot of discussion on this subject. I have heard everything from "I don't want my kids seeing this on the internet" and "what kind of role model is she?" to outright support, understanding, and congratulations to this amazing woman who is at the top of her sport.
I think it would have been very interesting (and I wish I would have) had I run this photo of USA track & field hammer thrower, Amanda Bingson, who talks about her weight and why she's built for her sport and proud of her body.
Would the comments have been the same? Is it perhaps more about Leticia being the "ideal" size/weight so her photo is more "sexual" to some people?
Here are two statements made by athletes featured in the Body Issue. Can you tell which one was a quote from a male athlete and which was from a female athlete?
"I'm proud of my body, I'm proud of my sport, I'm proud of being a professional athlete. Being naked is just another aspect of that."
"I worked hard this off season to get my body where I needed to get it because finally, I wasn't hurt"
Does it matter? Not really, both are athletes at the peak of their sport and working like hell to be in the best shape possible. Both also have a great self body image and are proud of how their bodies look - which is what I hope every girl out there feels as well.
Yet when these statements were placed under each athletes photos can you guess who got more flack? Yep, USA World Cup Soccer player Ali Krieger whose quote is the first one.
Why is it OK for our male counterparts to be seen as Adonis's and yet when our female athletes train hard, eat right, win championships & do photo shoots with the same photographers, they risk being labeled sexual beings, and not good role models? Isn't that a double standard?
In fact, I wonder how many parents are at home tonight forbidding their sons from looking at Bryce Harper, and all the other guys in the 2015 ESPN Body Issue? Probably not many (if any), vs how many parents are agonizing about their daughters seeing the image from The Body Issue of Leticia that we posted today on our instagram feed this morning....
Something to think about - this crazy double standard we are creating for our girls.
Isn't it also up to us (or you as a parent if your child is under a certain age) to decide who is a female role model you'd like to have? You can simply choose not to have that person be your role model, but I don't think vilifying these women is the answer.
In my opinion, if you are going to put Leticia or any of these other female athletes on a cross, you had better race to turn off the TV, stop going to movies, and take away your kids internet and cell phones because there are a lot more images out there that are really offensive and degrading to women that we need to be worrying about.