Thursday, February 4, 2010

Beyond Lindsey Vonn's Sports Illustrated Cover

I saw a post on the yahoo frontpage about the Lindsey Vonn Sports Illustrated cover that kind of bothered me for some reason.

Vonn's semi-provocative pose has drawn the predictable ire from those who claim that it objectifies her. She's an athlete, not a sex symbol, the chorus inevitably reminds us. They have a point in taking issue with SI; the magazine rarely features women athletes on the cover and its annual swimsuit issue has been a focus of protests for decades. But Vonn's cover is different.

The pose at least resembles the tuck stance skiers like Vonn take when barrelling down the hill. It's exaggerated, of course, but not gratuitously so. It's not as if SI put her in a bikini in a Whistler hot tub.

Also, this is Vonn's moment. If she wins multiple golds in Vancouver, Vonn has the potential to become a major crossover star. She'd be like Michael Phelps, only with better looks and an actual personality. Landing on the SI cover is a good way for her to start the Vonn saturation campaign. It's as important for her as it is the magazine. The pose is suggestive, sure, but it's not objectifying. The headline reads "America's best woman skier ever", for Jean-Claude's sake! Why can't she be both the best skier in the world and really, really attractive too? Tom Brady's a great athlete and a handsome dude and I don't hear people whine when he's shirtless in GQ.

Most importantly, this cover is almost identical to the one that ran on SI's Winter Olympic preview in 1992. That one featured a gentleman named A.J. Kitt and I'm pretty sure nobody was complaining about that one being too provocative.
I guess what’s irritating me is the idea that us humorless feminists are just waiting in the wings for the opportunity to ruin everyone’s special moment by pointing out that something may be sexist. For one, the author only links to two different places where Vonn’s cover is talked about and one of those links merely asks the question as to whether or not a male athlete would pose for a picture like this. Seems a bit disingenuous to me. For two, the fact that the media treats male and female athletes differently is no big secret. This is something that Sociological Images has talked about this time and time (and time) again.

The ironic thing is I don’t even care too much about Vonn’s picture (if you remember I didn’t care about the Palin Runner’s World cover brouhaha either). It just seems like such a small thing to get so worked up over (which is ridiculous coming from me since anything can make me screech like a dying banshee if I’m in one of my moods). I would much rather focus on why only 4% of all SI covers have portrayed women in the last 60 years (according to the link). That seems like a much bigger issue then whether or not Vonn is too bent over.

The authors point, “Why can't she be both the best skier in the world and really, really attractive too” is what bothered me the most though because it's a completele misrepresentation of the other sides argument in an attempt to boost his own. The people who question things like this do not do so because the people being photographed happen to be attractive. That’s not the point. I also hate how male athletes are compared to female athletes (“Tom Brady's a great athlete and a handsome dude and I don't hear people whine when he's shirtless in GQ”) without any concession to the blatant fact that men and women are not treated the same by the media.

If you haven't seen this video I don't think we can be friends. Watch it.

The author does make a valid point that A.J. Kitt had a very similar picture on the front of Sports Illustrated in 1992, but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that male and female athletes are treated very differently by our media. (I would also argue that Kitt’s picture is actually a lot different then Vonn’s since his appears to have been taken while actually skiing and hers looks like she was posed in that manner.)

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