I’ve always been two minds about the ESPN Body Issue. The positives are that they show strong bodies designed to complete impossible-seeming tasks. Though they are all athletes, not everyone has a 2% body fat composition, so they manage to celebrate the human form, but not just one type of human form. And they are unabashed that this is not a swimsuit issue; those bodies – well-known “models” from the world of sports – are nude.
The negatives derive from how they frame the issue. Each year, they promote these as “Bodies We Want.” On the one hand, this could be a throwaway line. But on the other, it fetishizes a certain type of body – the strong, athletic, heavily worked-out body – as the ideal, the one worthy of our gaze. And admiration. It can be a backhanded way of contributing to body shame, since many of us don’t have the time to “achieve” those “bodies we want.” We are not worthy of being in such an issue, because no one would want ours.
But the Body Issue is a huge step forward in how the body is presented for public consumption. There is no shame attached to these images. And while the former ESPN ombudsman received a few complaints, it is, on the whole, embraced. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did; nor would it receive the attention it gets on their website’s front page when released. It is unabashed. Not shy. Not hiding behind a brown wrapper.
However, think of the struggle nudists/naturists have in gaining wider public acceptance. For many of us, we sit with the fears that if we are found out (or reveal our true selves) that we will be rejected or ostracized by society, jobs, friends, and family. We don’t hold the wealth of the professional athlete, nor are we celebrated nationally, both things that insulate the athlete models from the backlash a regular old nudist might experience. They can continue on, because it’s a one-off. It’s not “who they are.” It’s a day of play-acting. Those of us for whom this is daily life don’t have such luxuries. And that’s sad.
I was born a nudist, to the point where I struggle to label it because it’s just me. It has always been my inclination. I did not choose to be this way; I just am. It is so intrinsic to who I am that I don’t enjoy hiding from it (I have to my own personal detriment), though there are risks for someone lay nudists being unabashed the way those in the Body Issue are. Yet, after years of struggling with my own body positivity, my own body acceptance, and my own confidence in being just who I am, I have realized that I am actually in the body I want. It’s got me this far in life.
My hope is that ESPN is actually helping to normalize non-sexual nudity, which is the nudist/naturist dream. Unlike “swimsuit” issues, they aren’t projecting a salacious model to their readership. They do show people with larger guts, muscles, curves, and without thigh gaps. They are all one type – the powerful athletic type – but they provide a step in the right direction.
The next message should be – want your own body, but celebrate the human form.