The first paper performed a critical rhetorical analysis of the visuals in ESPN Magazine's "body issue" that shows athletes in censored but mostly naked poses. As opposed to a pornographic magazine, the photographs were of athletes who covered genital and chest regions with creative posing, sports equipment, or other people.
|Serena Williams - Tennis|
"Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who've pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To ... well, gawk. So go ahead; join us."
The idea is that "normal" people cannot achieve such physical fitness and athleticism is something "god-like", to be worshiped and praised. Athletes, though, arguably occupy a wide variety of physical fitness. From the small, thin frame of the jockey to the lean muscle of the runner to the bulky, muscular form of football players, athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Their bodies are thus icons of perfection, not because they fit a certain mold or standard of perfection, but because they are perfect tools to fulfill their specific role. Interesting additions to the body issue, infrequent, is the representation of Paralympic athletes such as Esther Vergeer (2010 issue) and Oksana Masters (2012 issue). Although their bodies may not be the "perfect", "god-like" bodies that one would initially think of, these athletes have become titans in their sport, serving as a symbol of the power of the athletic form, however one may define it.
|Sarah Reinertsen - Marathon/Triathlon Runner|
The rationale behind the male/female frequency in the magazine was justified by the researchers in the comparison of the types of images. The female athletes were consistently shown in stoic, full body poses performing no action besides being a subject for the camera to focus on. For example, Venus Williams was shown supine in a bathing suit beside a pool, performing no action but relaxing. Julia Mancuso was standing facing the camera, bending a leg and crossing her arms to cover herself. From these photographs, we would have no indication of their sport, physical abilities, or skills as an athlete, but can only focus on their form as an attractive body.
|Julia Mancuso - Olympic Skier|
|Jose Reyes - Baseball|
The methodology the researchers chose was based in gender and feminist studies, but I wish that the overall issue of the body and power had been explored. I find the inclusion of Paralympic bodies, the bodies of jockeys, bobsledders, and sumo wrestlers, and non-traditional athletic forms is a powerful statement about who can and should be considered an athlete.