Men are athletes, women are accessories

Hey there, sexy ladies! Do you know what a champion Olympic athlete needs in the run-up to the 2012 London Games? Why a hot beach-babe, of course. That’s right, let’s kick it Baywatch-style! Wait, what’s that? You’re a champion Olympic athlete too? Doesn’t matter. Just grab yourself some beefcake arm and smile for the camera.

That, at least, seems to be the message of this special Olympics-themed cover of Vogue. Vogue rarely features men on its covers, but they’ve made an exception for swimmer Ryan Lochte. Lochte and his abs are joined by fellow-Olympians Hope Solo and Serena Williams, photographed rocking the classic  female beach-model pose. (You can see some additional photos from inside the magazine here.)

14 thoughts on “Men are athletes, women are accessories

  1. What I found baffling about the cover was that Solo and Williams aren’t hopefuls in swimming. I could make sense of it if they were all three Olympic swimmers, but putting them in bathing suits is a bit random. I mean, you could easily have had a great photo with each of the three dressed in something at least broadly suitable for their sport.

  2. Isn’t he just being used as eye candy? Horrid phrase, but seems apt.

  3. Brandon – yeah, that’s at least part of what’s bugging me about the photo. Lochte is a swimmer, wearing a swimsuit (and yeah, it’s not the kind of swimsuit you’d race in. . .more’s the pity. . .sorry, distracted there for a minute – anyway, it’s a swimmer in a swimsuit). But they’ve put a soccer player and a tennis player in swimsuits right alongside him. (And then, by the looks of things, photoshopped quite a bit of muscle off the women’s bodies.) The photo seems to celebrate male athleticism and female ability to smile while the beach breeze is blowing through your tousled locks.

  4. Anne – yes, he’s definitely being used as eye candy. But in an “oooo, athletic guys with awesome abs are hot” kind of way. The photo celebrates Lochte’s athleticism while disguising and underplaying that of Solo and Williams.

  5. It may seem very odd, but I don’t associate that look with especially skilled athleticism. A man can get it by working out with weights, and really not being especially anything more than eye candy. I perhaps should explain that the place where I take pilates is across from one of those body building places and instructors at my place feel some scorn for the training at the other.

  6. Yeah. there is no way a soccer star’s thighs are that flaccid. And we all know Serena is super buff and broad shouldered. Her body is barely recognizable.

  7. It’s certainly possible muscles were photoshopped away (certainly not beyond my expectation of “Vogue”) but, @John Protevi, I don’t find your photos all that convincing. Naturally, their muscles appear much larger during a tennis match, or when lifting weights, than on this cover. (and again, not saying you’re wrong…just saying a comparison to non-competition pics would be helpful…)

    Also, it’s worth writing that certain muscles give the illusion of size (for instance, bodybuilders work the deltoids disproportionately, and movies tend to emphasize angles toward those muscles in both male/female leads). Since you can’t see these ladies’ delts on the cover, that too may cause them to lose a bit of size (although this, I suppose, could have also been orchestrated by the eds. at “Vogue”) And at least to me, it looks like Serena’s traps, for instance, are about what they seem at rest (am I posting this on FP or on “Flex” haha?) She’s very strong, but at least, when next to Lochte, or in person, not freakishly hyoooge.

    Lastly, I disagree with the assessment of soccer players…all that running drives cortisol too far and breaks down muscle mass (and increases fat…lighter than muscle and easy to carry). Most of the soccer players I know (not all…just most) have legs very smallish compared to an anearobic athlete like sprinter, lifter, American footballer, etc. Not at all surprising to see “flaccid” thighs on an aerobic athlete.

    Anyway, I’m a dumb meathead who just happens to be in your readership, haha. Just my 2cc on the photo…I love this blog and please keep up the great work.


  8. David, I invite you to google “serena williams swimsuit” if you don’t think this is a rather severe photoshopping.

    As for Hope Solo, here’s a publicity still from her Dancing with the Stars gig:

    The more interesting bit is that Solo is a goalkeeper, not a field player, and so trains for explosiveness, not endurance.

    But even more interesting than that is that field players now train by sprints to simulate the demands of a football / soccer game, which at top level combines sprints with jogs and even a bit of walking, rather than sustained aerobic or threshold aerobic work:

    This produces musculature closer to that of a 800 meter runner than a distance runner.

    For instance, here’s Abby Wambach:

    Here’s a shot of the USA National Championship 800 meter race:

  9. I agree with Anne, their does not seem to be anything inherently sexist in the photo – it depicts three (attractive) athletes smiling and walking arm in arm. (Although maybe the man is being given ‘center stage’ – would two men flanking one woman make us think that they are her accessories?)

    Maybe we are prone to seeing a woman as ‘being on a man’s arm’ and a man as ‘having a woman on his arm,’ but to me this seems to stem from sexism endemic to our perceptions, and not from the photo.

    Although If the women’s muscles have been photoshopped away that seems incriminating – I’ve never really understood why muscular women aren’t thought of as attractive, I certainly think they are!

    The other pictures in the posted link show male athletes with female models, and do seem to emphasize the men’s active attractiveness and the women’s passive attractiveness, but they are models…being attractive is what they do.

  10. I have to say, I also don’t see the problem. The three people are doing the same thing, wearing the same expression, wearing the same kinds of clothes, exhibiting the same amount of pulchritude. The women aren’t in any way subordinate to the man. The image doesn’t seem at all problematic; but if there was photoshopping away of female muscles, OK, that does irk.

  11. Even if the women’s muscles weren’t photoshopped, the picture is set up in such a way as to minimize them. The way the photo is cropped and the position of the man’s arms hide the broad shoulders and amazing upper-body strength of Serena Williams. And I find it hard to beilieve that this cropping/placement was accidental…

  12. @John Protevi, thanks for the detailed reply. I now find your case for photoshopping more persuasive and, as I said, such photoshopping wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Thank you.

    Thanks, also, for your instructive comments regarding sports training ;) It’s great if indeed soccer coaches are using more interval-type stuff (many strength coaches, notably Charles Poliquin, even make use of interval training for triathletes! I think such training not only, as you say, better approximates the demands of sport…but also’ll cause a beneficial hormonal response to distance runners and their emaciated bodies). Unfortunately, I don’t have to say, soccer players cannot avoid playing soccer regardless of their training :*( Lastly, as you say, “explosive” training could mean anything on a continuum from bodyweight plyometrics, to relatively light lifts performed at an explosive tempo, to the supervised olympic lifts with hundreds of kg’s. Until it means the latter, I’ll remain unsurprised by the smallish physiques of most soccer players or goalies (male or female).

    Thanks again, all, for this thread. I might not have initially found the photos sexist, but have come to appreciate the different arguments and perspectives.


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