Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Body Issue (ESPN Magazine Feature)

I am in a communications major class right now called Cross Cultural Communication, and each week we have a paper to write on a given subject. This week was a "cultural moment" which could be a huge variety of things! I chose ESPN's Body Issue magazine. I wanted to share my paper with you all because this was an assignment I found very interesting!

The Body Issue
            This title of an annual edition of ESPN magazine could be taken in two ways: one as in an issue of a magazine, the other as an enticing topic. People are self-conscious about their bodies and observant of those around them, much more now than in the past due to the increasing use of social media, societal standards, and comparison issues that so many people develop, especially women. Since 2009, ESPN has produced an issue of their magazine focusing on athletes from all varieties of sports’ bodies by using basically nude photos staged to look “attractive” and reflect their sport as well as each athlete’s confidence as a person.
            The first Body Issue was released on October 9, 2009, featuring three male and three female athletes posing on and off the field in their respective sports. They were either naked with their private body parts strategically covered or in minimal clothing. The magazine still contained the usual sports coverage, but also added another section of more athletes in their birthday suits. Many of the athletes who were asked to participate did so willingly, while some even reached out to ESPN hoping to be included. Different covers were sold, but the magazine featuring Serena Williams was the top seller. The reasoning behind this new feature for the ESPN magazine was an attempt to regain revenue after the financial crises of the previous years which had decreased their ad revenue by 24 percent. It was also intended to rival the highly popular Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and showcase all body types. The outcome was a huge success, bringing in double sales. Ever since this year, they have continued to produce an annual Body Issue. Throughout the years, some of the most prominent athletes in their respective sports have participated including Dwight Howard (NBA), Lolo Jones (track), Shawn Johnson (Olympic gymnastics), Ryan Hall (Olympic marathon), Ron Gronkowski (NFL), Candace Parker (WNBA), and Emma Coburn (team USA running) among many others.
            These highly revealing photos of some of the most talented, respected, and/or looked up to athletes can be highly controversial. Though the private areas are covered, the photos reveal much more skin and body than is usually displayed, even in swimsuits. The pictures are intended to draw attention to their bodies, which can make both the athlete posing and those looking at it uncomfortable. Over the years, body image has become an increasingly touchy subject as eating disorders, self-harm, self-esteem, and the like have become a dark cloud behind the scenes of social media. Although the athletes who posed agreed to do so, this could still lead them to feel like they have to look a certain way, especially if millions of people are going to see almost every square inch of their body. From the perspective of the readers, they will see these athletes who are the most elite, ornamented, and successful at what they do, and think that that is the ideal way to look. The problem with that is that they are the most elite, ornamented, and successful in their field, and their lives revolve around their fitness and sport. This is a tiny percentage of the population, and they have these body types by very specific training by professionals. They are in this shape for seasons, but know they cannot maintain that forever. Bodies need a break, and these elites are elite; that’s what most people overlook. Seeing the Body Issue has potential to give people body issues.
            On the other hand, not all the athletes pictured are like those elite runners, swimmers, gymnasts, etc. who have super lean and thin frames. Other athletes such as some football and baseball players and wrestlers, etc. have larger body frames, which can be beneficial in what they do. These people who posed for the magazine embraced their bodies and showed off what they had along with those athletes of smaller size. It did not matter to them if they carried around a little extra weight; sometimes it even helped them with their success! They were proud of who they were and did not feel pressure to change to show themselves to the world. These people could be admired for their confidence in who they are rather than what they look like. This could be a great influence to others in the world who feel insecure in their bodies and like they need to change to be a success. Seeing the most successful athletes happy with their bodies the way they are can encourage people in the audience to feel confident in themselves, too.
            The most recent edition of The Body Issue (2016) brought NBC to do an interview with the athletes on how they felt about participating. These athletes shared things about their lives to be an encouragement to others. Dwayne Wade from the Chicago Bulls admitted that he has struggled with insecurity his whole life, especially about his outie belly button, until just recently. Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers has always been small and judged for his size at his position of wide receiver, but uses this as greater motivation to work hard and stay healthy. Nzingha Prescod, an Olympic fencer, is self-conscious yet proud about her curves and muscles and wants to inspire other women to feel the same way (  In another interview, Wade also acknowledged that situations like this cause athletes and others in the world to experience more fear and insecurity from being judged by people ( ESPN also posted a blog addressing some of the photos and videos that were released on their website from the Body Issue that were taken offensively and considered to have gone too far. People are supportive of the fact that ESPN is seeking to celebrate all forms of athletes’ bodies, but they are not okay with the amount of nudity that has come out to the public recently (

            Over the past year, especially coming to college and places where people are more open and honest, I have seen that there are many more people affected by body image, comparison, social media, communication, self-esteem, and so many more emotional and mental problems that can greatly hamper the enjoyment of life. Seeing so many things released on the internet, television, and print that would not be considered acceptable in previous years (and not easily accessible if they were there) has shown me just how fast society is changing and accepting more and more things that would have previously been rejected. All these things now brought to light can make people very uncomfortable and set unrealistic expectations for themselves and the world. Sometimes this greater exposure provides great encouragement to the people in the world who are not living the lives of fame, but I can also see the negative and disturbances that can come from any event that begins with a positive idea. As the body issue began as a way to promote ESPN and athletes of all varieties, it can also bring insecurity to those in and reading the magazine.