Gawking At Olympic Bodies, For Better Or For Worse

Illustration for article titled Gawking At Olympic Bodies, For Better Or For Worse

Simon Barnes wrote a piece for today's Times of London which begins, "Where are all the breasts?" He continues: "I mean: what's happened to women's breasts? Once, female swimming champions had them, now they don't. They have broad shoulders and wide chests, but no lumps on them. It's not quite as it should be." Barnes blames the Speedo LZR Racer, the compression suit many of the champion swimmers wear. But it is upsetting, to think of the women's bodies being scrutinized so, to consider the fact that, as the Globe And Mail reports, three current Olympians — U.S. swimmer Amanda Beard, Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice and U.S. high jumper Amy Acuff — have posed for "lad mags" like FHM and Playboy. But before we get all righteous about the ass shots in beach volleyball or how one photo in the "images of the games" was a shot of a woman putting on makeup, we've got to be honest: Who among us has not ogled a swim team member's torso? Yeah. Well, NY Times writer Guy Trebay also has a story today, and he says:

Because the Greek word gymnasium translates as something more or less like "nuditorium," it seems clear that few events offer a richer opportunity to see how physical beauty is currently constructed than the Beijing Games… What the Games also frankly accommodate is a taste for the spectacle of straining young bodies, an appeal that was not lost on the ancients. The crowds at the early Games, according to the historian Nigel Spivey, were as excited by the "boys with slim waists, broad shoulders, neatly proud buttocks and springy thighs" as they were by the lofty ideal of the Games.


Yes, the Ancient Greeks would have wanted us to drool over the hot, dark, oiled-up guys on the Japanese beach volleyball team. And honestly? The men and women competing in the games are spectacles. They're not regular, average humans. They're not even what Olympians used to look like, Trebay claims. He checkout some archival photos of athletes from the 1920s. "What is striking about these images is how lightly muscled the athletes' bodies appear, how fine in proportion and aesthetically balanced, and how unlike so many of those on view in these Games, bodies that even in real time seem digitally enhanced." So what do we do about the sexist coverage, when we so gleefully delight in these awe-inspiring specimens of humanity? Do we support women like former Canadian water polo player Waneek Horn-Miller, who appeared naked on the cover of Time magazine eight years ago? (She explains: "It's one chance every four years to get out an image of a healthy athletic woman instead of an underweight, underage model. Athletes' bodies are much healthier - and they're functional!" She says after she did the cover, "People told me it was something they'd show to their daughters. I mean, I was obsessed like everyone else with fashion magazines when I was a teenager. It's natural to look for the body ideal… [But her image was] a woman, a great athlete, 160 pounds, who can bench-press her own body weight and squat 180 pounds.") Is there a difference between women having a healthy appreciation for male swimmers' bodies and a male writer questioning female swimmers' lack of breasts? When Action Figures Come Out to Play [NY Times] Where are all the breasts? [Times of London] Athletes went from Nixon to naked [Globe And Mail] Related: Going for Gold in my Birthday Suit [Shameless] Read more coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Rooo sez BISH PLZ

@MakeFetch: I so hear you.

But that's a Big. Biiiiiiiiiiiig. Can of Worms. With multifaceted sides. Polygonal, even.

I see that you're new. You may want to read a few back posts (starting with posts on Michelle Obama might be ... helpful) before you decide whether you want to open that here.

Oh — and you may also want to ignore bria. She frequently means well, but the shrieking, weeping naivete ... it buuuuurns.