I wrote about it when Serena took off her clothes for ESPN, so it’s only fair that I drag myself out of my sick bed to give Ester Vergeer equal treatment. Achoo! Cough, cough, sniff. Apologies for the silence. I feel like crap. Only a naked Ester Vergeer could force me to find the wherewithal to write.
At first glance I thought I was looking at a photo of Claire Danes. I know that she’s been busy trying to sell me that concoction that is supposed to make your eyelashes grow, and which in ten years we might end up finding out is implicated in everything from night blindness to optic cancer. I respect my eyes too much to wear anything other than kohl which has stood the varied tests of time. But I digress.
So at first glance I’m wondering what the heck Claire Danes is doing in a wheelchair. And then when I saw the tennis racket, for another brief moment, I flashed on an image of Elena Dementieva. It wasn’t until I read the caption that I realized that I was looking at a photo of Ester Vergeer. I did not recognize her behind the nudity and the make-up and the awkwardly-situated tennis racket and the bizarre folding of the arms across her chest, all of which combined to make her look, well…not at all like herself really.
ESPN swears up and down that it’s Body Issue “is a celebration and exploration of the athletic form, honoring athletes of diverse shapes, sizes, colors, genders and race.” But why do these women have to appear buck naked for me to honor them? Do I need to see tits and asses, however nicely obscured, in order to appreciate the diversity of athleticism to be found in women’s sports? I personally don’t think so. Then again, I’m probably not the demographic to which ESPN is marketing this bogus product.
Just call me a party-pooper, but another troubling issue for me is the insistence on nudity as part of the aesthetic of so-called “athleticism”. How exactly are we the consumers supposed to draw the line between “athleticism” and frank sex appeal? Or is it OK if we conflate the two?
Because make no bones about it, the picture of the women’s polo team standing ass-cheek to vag is a pretty sexy shoot. I can see it getting pride of place on the wall of the average horny teenager. Is said teenager going to receive the message that ESPN insists that it is selling? If that is the case, can I expect any day now that in my mailbox will appear an ESPN cover shoot of the Spanish World Cup team standing ass-cheek to penis in all of their fine nude español glory? What about any of the athletic fellas on the NBA? Ryder Cup? Team Galaxy? I’m not fussy. Just egalitarian.
Let me say that I at least appreciate that ESPN remained true to its goal of diversity by the inclusion of Vergeer. Arguably one of the most accomplished wheel-chair bound athletes, Vergeer certainly deserves to be lauded for her tremendous accomplishments in tennis. She has won 16 Slams and has broken every record within the domain of her sport. She has been the top-ranked player in wheelchair singles and doubles since 1999. Vergeer initially mastered the sport of wheelchair basketball before switching to tennis. I am thankful for that. And at age 29, this Dutch woman has a whole lot of tennis left in her.
But looking at the photo of Vergeer literally strapped into her wheelchair, I thought of none of this. Mainly I thought that she seemed hugely uncomfortable, her head awkwardly positioned, her toes jammed into and falling out of the stirrups. I wanted to cry. What a tremendous opportunity for ESPN to celebrate the determination of a woman inspired to achieve despite physical limitations. I didn’t need her to be strapped and packaged as a sex object.
No wait, I forgot. This is not about sexuality. It’s about athleticism.
In that case, it’s time for ESPN to start putting some hot naked studs on their magazine covers. Federer and Rafa appearing shirtless don’t cut it for me anymore. I want the full Monty, artfully trussed up and displayed like these women. And I’m not fussy. I will even settle for Lance Armstrong and his single ball standing ass-cheek to penis in a shoot of the cluster-f**k of riders at the Tour de France. OK maybe just the top 20. And maybe minus Lance.
Come to think of it, just about any cluster of male athletes wearing nothing, as they stand there, ass-cheek to penis, in awkward poses will do just fine. And I will look at that picture and think, what tremendous athleticism! Thank you ESPN!