ESPN recently released their annual “Body Issue,” an entire issue devoted to commenting on the bodies of famous and up-and-coming athletes. ESPN is continuing the trend of infantalizing strong and independent female athletes by posing them in weak and passive positions.
The sexualization of these athletes minimizes their physical and athletic accomplishments by infantilizing them. Just take a look at the cover: Diana Taurasi is in a vulnerable, fetal position. I don’t own the Body Issue, so I can’t say if they mention Diana’s athletic accomplishments, but I am certain her success is not the focus of the article. People aren’t buying this magazine to admire women’s strength or to admire these women’s athletic feats.
On the 2009 cover of the body issue, Amar’e Stoudemire was naked and thus sexualized. However, his nudity didn’t diminish his body. Instead, it only enhanced his physically strong body. On the cover, he is in mid-air and looks as if he is about to slam-dunk. Taurasi and Stoudemire are both basketball players, yet the images are in stark contrast. She is passive, vulnerable, in a child-like position; there is no sign of a basketball anywhere. The focus isn’t her physical prowess, but her sexuality. He is active, strong, and his muscles are well-defined; he fulfills expectations of what it means to be an athlete (and a man). The focus is his physical capabilities and his sport.
The message being sent about women is: No matter how physically strong you may be, you must still maintain a soft, sexy, vulnerable part of you, because that’s what men value most. If you are too strong and don’t soften that image up with femininity, that strength is off-putting and can bring your gender and sexual orientation into question.
It’s disturbing that 1) A woman’s femininity needs to be reiterated constantly on a public platform and 2) A woman’s femininity is confirmed through pure sexualization.