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Vancouver 2010: Why do I see women Olympians in their swimsuits?

I cringe every year when Sports Illustrated releases its swimsuit edition—it’s page after page of half-naked women in a sports magazine that rarely features females otherwise. So, in early February, when this perennial athletic publication decided to include women winter Olympians in this particular edition, there was no lack of sexism. The women athletes, like all the other models, are photographed in overly sexualized positions and in skimpy swimsuits (even though they’re not swimmers).

Four American women in the 2010 Winter Olympics—snowboarders Claire Bidez and Hannah Teter and skiers Lindsey Vonn and Lacy Schnoor—appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. In doing so, the women seem to be showing off their hot bods for a male audience that already values women’s sports less than men’s. These talented women have dozens of reasons to be admired, and none of them should have to do with their physiques in bikinis.

Check out these photos of Vonn, Bidez, and Schnoor and really think about what these images are saying about women athletes to a readership that is dominantly male.

Notice how the women’s sports equipment is secondary. Vonn is in bed, wrapped around her ski jacket—in a swimsuit. Bidez walks in the snow with her boots, snowboard and even goggles—in a swimsuit. With her skis strategically crossing in between her legs and donned in a bikini, Schnoor seems to be saying, “Yes, this is my body, which you can ogle. Oh, these skis? I use them for winning medals. But really, check out these legs!” What are these images telling male readers? And what are they telling young girls who look up to these Olympians?

As a young woman who has been athletic her whole life, I hate that female athletes live in a world where the message is that you may make it to the Olympics, and you may be one of the best athletes on this planet, and you’ll get tons of press for your accomplishments, but you probably should still go ahead and pose in a bathing suit. Then you’ll be legitimate. Even one of my best male friends, someone who is perfectly conscious of media inequality between the genders, exclaimed, “Wow, Hannah Teter is hot!” as I was talking about writing this blog. “See?!” I exclaimed back. “You only comment on her looks! That’s the only thing you equate her with!”

Days before the special swimsuit issue was released, skier and medalist Lindsay Vonn was featured on a February SI cover. Awesome, right? Well, here’s the image:

Lindsay Vonn's SI cover

What position is she in? Even though this may be a common ski position, does it look like she’s actually moving? And what images of males are you used to seeing on SI covers, and how does this one differ? Dr. Nicole LaVoi, who studies the roles of women in sports, told the Vancouver Sun, “When females are featured on the cover of SI, they are more likely than not to be in sexualized poses and not in action.” Over the last 60 years, LaVoi pointed out, only four percent of SI covers have showcased women.

Tryce Czyczynska of the San Diego News Network recently wrote in an article,

In her shot, Vonn is displayed with more than a models’ full make-up, yet on the slopes in skis and gear. The angle of her stance and the mountainous skyline suggests motion, while her falling forward hair remains impeccably groomed and studio ready. Even her lipstick suggests soirees instead of snow, and her smoky eyes bait the cameraman for more than a high-five for her skill in sports.

After decades of these images, on the cover or on the inside pages, it’s clear that Sports Illustrated values women athletes not for their contributions to sports but for their physiques, and it continues to perpetuate the idea of women as inferior athletes.

Women have a hard enough time as it is getting the respect they deserve from men who prefer to watch men’s basketball, men’s hockey, men’s snowboarding. Why, when a woman is featured in a sports magazine, must she be in her bikini?

What are your thoughts? Have you seen other overly sexualized images of women Olympians during the winter games? What publications or programs have praised women athletes? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


15 thoughts on “Vancouver 2010: Why do I see women Olympians in their swimsuits?

  1. “I won an olympic gold medal, looked really hot while doing it, and Sports Illustrated is going to help everyone remember that”

    …doesn’t seem like such a bad thing

  2. Um, seems to me that these woman decided of their own free will to do these photo shoots… if you have a problem with the photos, then you have a problem with these women, not Sports Illustrated or any other publication that features this kind of material. It also sounds like you have a problem with sex in general, like perhaps it doesn’t or shouldn’t exist.

  3. “..if you have a problem with these photos, you have a problem with these women…”

    this is untrue. the problem is not women having conventionally attractive bodies, or bodies that they are proud of, or even showing off those bodies. the problem is that they are only taken seriously as athletes in instances where their bodies are on display.

  4. @ Vivian: but why must it matter if she looks good? and like I said, I have several guy friends, when, upon hearing the name of women athletes like Vonn or Bidez, only comment on her looks.
    @ get real: you must have missed the point. it is sports illustrated i have a problem with. why always sexualize women athletes?

  5. ““I won an olympic gold medal, looked really hot while doing it,”

    I didn’t watch much of the Olympics, but I did see a replay of Vonn’s incredible win, and I agree, she looked AMAZING while she did that!

    That’s not how she looks here.

    On the slopes, she was active, intent, athletic, and phenomenally skilled.

    In this photo, she look about like any other blond in a bikini. It has stripped her of a great deal of what made her interesting in the first place.

    Sure, she took the photo of her own free will (as far as we know.) That was her decision, and I sincerely wish she had not chosen it, but it was her choice.

    That in no way exonerates the magazine and the other people responsible for portraying her this way, or the culture that makes it acceptable and desirable to do so.

  6. Sorry you have to deal with the random critiques above, I really appreciate the commentary and criticism and I stand with you in both pointing out the exploitation and uplifting these phenomenal athletes for their athletic talent.

  7. I totally agree that sexualizing female athletes this way passes on the message that their level of hotness is at least as important as their sporting ability. It shouldn’t matter what they look like at all.

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  9. These women are obviously powerful and have a lot to offer. i believe the author was simply trying to point out that this photo shoot demeans them in the eyes of men. that no matter how much they can accomplish, in the end they will always be pieces of meat in bikinis.

  10. Just having read the Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, the main character of the book was raped by her father and after that incident, no one in the town would even look at her. They wouldn’t look at her because they think that she is impure and has been tainted by her father. Self consciously she developed the thought that she had the bluest eyes in the entire world, when in actuality she never had blue eyes and the reason behind all the neglect was because of her eyes.
    Images like these feed to the fact that people have to be attractive and sexual, but pure at the same time. The photo where Schnoor is standing and her skies are crossed in front of her, I believe, gives off the saying “look but don’t touch.” Many photos that I have seen throughout the media, the models are in sexual positions and/or what society believes as beautiful.
    While talking to my friends, I realized that women athletes are only taken seriously if they take photos in bikinis or “show some skin.” They never even brought up how good they were on the slopes. When I tried to point out their achievements, I was immediately shot down as they continued to comment on their looks.
    Although the Bluest Eye may be fictional the story still relates to our society and how beauty is over popularized and puts pressure on women to become beautiful or they wont be recognized or wont make it in the world.

  11. I demand to know why there are no images of Shaun White in swim shorts! Yeah, I’m being silly, lol.

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