Object —-> Olympic Athlete —-> Human Being

Laurie and Debbie say:

We both love the Olympics, especially the sports you never see on TV except during the Olympics. And neither of us has a TV right now, so neither of us is seeing as much Olympics as we would like. Other folks are watching and commenting, however, and here’s some of what they are seeing:

Nate Jones’ photoessay, “What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?” says a great deal. Here are just a couple of shots from that piece, starting with a beach volleyball shot:

Beach Volleyball - Practice Session

Here’s diving:

diving man's ass shot mid dive

And wrestling:

There are lots more at the link.

No surprise. Women’s bodies are framed for the voyeur value, for the titillation. Beach volleyball is especially susceptible to this, since girls on the beach are one of the most canonical wet dream images in history. Men’s bodies are framed first for drama, or glory, or competition.

Chloe at Feministing adds a level by pointing out the writing about the photographs, including this New York Times article which conveys the interesting point about women’s water polo: that it leads to wardrobe malfunctions and underwater pictures of women’s bodies.

Asked for her most memorable moment of underwater warfare, [Heather] Petri said she played about 10 minutes of a game topless at the 2000 Olympics, when an opponent shredded her suit as they grappled for the ball but play continued. Left with little choice, she just kept swimming until the next timeout, when she hopped out of the pool and shimmied into a spare.

We’d love to know how the question was phrased. Any bets that it wasn’t “most memorable moment” in the same context as the article (i.e., suits falling off)? No Olympic athlete in the world thinks that’s the most memorable moment if they’re thinking about the sport.

The article closes with some *ahem* insightful comments on men’s water polo, such as: “while the men’s teams do not have the same sort of family-friendly television issues, the women said, that does not mean the players do not have their fair share of dirty play.” News flash–men fight dirty (too?) but it’s not about what’s exposed on television.

As Chloe points out in her commentary:

What I do know about water polo is how hard it is. I remember how totally wiped out my [club and college water-polo player ]sister would be when she came home from practice, or how she would sleep for fourteen hours after coming home from a tournament. Between the swimming, the treading water, the grappling with opponents, and the holding oneself up above the water to the waist in order to pass the ball around, I really do think that water polo is one of the most demanding sports in the world. My sister and her teammates were so strong, and so fit, and so tough. Their bodies were so powerful: big broad shoulders from swimming, strong arms and hands that could pitch the ball – heavier than it looks – half way down the pool, legs that could, oh, I don’t know, kick the living crap out of an insolent younger sister if she ever deserved it (she usually did). I was always in awe of the things my sister and teammates could do with their bodies.

Women’s water polo is also appealing to Body Impolitic because the women are such different sizes and shapes–some look like (most) competition women swimmers and some look more like weightlifters.

Body variety is usually between sports rather than within a sport, so this is refreshing.

Chloe’s final point is extremely well-taken. This photo of swimmer Tom Daley is all over the Internet, but the Times didn’t bother to mention it when talking about how underwater cameras can take revealing pictures:


Can you imagine the commentary on this shot if Daley was female?

Being an Olympic athlete and a woman is no different than just being a woman in one particular regard–the media will, before acknowledging anything else about you, milk your body for its voyeur potential (or lack thereof). Then they will say something about your athletic ability and how well (or poorly) they feel you “represent your country.” Finally, they may or may not attempt to capture anything about you as a human being.

Thanks to Lori Selke for the beach volleyball pointer.