What Message is the ESPN Body Issue, or SI Swimsuit Edition Sending?


I wrote a paper for my college class, Media Issues, entitled, “The Media’s Influence on Body Image.” Recently, ESPN came out with their annual Body Issue, and Sports Illustrated came out with their Swimsuit Edition in February.  ESPN has primarily men and women athletes posing nude for their magazine, whereas SI has supermodels and athletes wearing swimsuits or body paint. Both magazines sparked an interest in asking why athletes pose nude or with minimal clothing on and if the media’s exposure on body image affects the way a man or woman perceives themselves. The goal of this article hopes to ask the question, is there anything wrong with posing nude or with minimal clothing on for a magazine?

First, and foremost, ESPN and SI aren’t the only magazines that publish men and women without clothing or with minimal clothing on. Magazines such as Maxim, or GQ are just a few of other magazines that have had athletes, or supermodels, etc. pose with or without clothes on.

So, as magazines have published men and women posing with or without clothes on, many people ask why create the ESPN Body Issue or the SI Swimsuit Edition?

Chad Millman, ESPN Editor and Chief, was interviewed on SVP and Russillo on Thursday on ESPN Radio, (listen to the bit of the interview here: http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=9470468) and said the ESPN Body Issue is about a”relationship with the athletes, and it’s still about sports and the beauty of their bodies and the work they put into it.”

Millman discussed with Scott Van Pelt that the workout regimen the athletes go through, and the idea that athletes such 77-year old Gary Player, “champion fitness all over the world,” are the some of the reasons to show these athletes posing nude.

A few athletes that have posed nude for the ESPN Body Issue shared why they did it:

Athletes like Stephanie Gilmore, said why not pose nude. 279417-stephanie-gilmore

“Why not? My thought was, Do it while the opportunity is there. Honestly, I was a little bit nervous, but I spend most of my time in a bikini anyway — although, posing naked goes a bit further than that. Of course, I was like, “Ahhh, I’ve got some insecurities,” but it was actually quite liberating.”

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to pose nude for the Body Issue because he didn’t want to be the typical quarterback.


” I’m not your typical quarterback. I don’t like when people say, “Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to run” or “Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to work out a certain way.” Quarterbacks can still have good bodies. I’m always conscious of the stereotype. I want to change what people think. There’s a lot more to it than what you see on the field.” (ESPN the Magazine – Morty Ain).

Meanwhile, the SI Swimsuit Edition has brought in 35 million in advertising sales (2005), and makes seven percent of Sports Illustrated’s annual revenue. It is huge for advertisers, bikini and jewelry designers. (Business Insider – The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue: A $1 Billion Empire)

People read these magazines, and it’s a business. ESPN and SI create the Body Issue and Swimsuit Edition to increase readership, revenue, and attract advertising.

Most people that read SI, and ESPN are males, and a study was done by Sports Business Daily in November of 2007 that ESPN and SI were number one and two, respectively. Maxim was number five on the list. 7.1 million male readers were found to read ESPN the Magazine, while 6.6 million read SI.

But as people read these magazines, the negative effects of comparing oneself to an athletes or supermodels’ bodies can be frightening.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders has compiled the following statistics of men and women that suffer from eating disorders:

  •  24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder) in the United States.
  • Students suffer the most from eating disorders, as 95% of men and women are between the age of 12 and 25.
  • When comparing men and women that struggle with eating disorders, it is much more common for women. Only 10-15% of men struggle with eating disorders.
  • In the perception of magazines and body image, 47% of girls in the grades of 5th through 12 grade want to lose weight because of magazine pictures. 69% of girls in the grades of 5th through 12th grade say that magazine pictures influence their idea of a perfect body shape.

Many will argue that ESPN, SI, Maxim, GQ, etc. have athletes, supermodels pose nude or in swimsuits/body paint to glorify their bodies and to show the hard work that they have achieved in becoming professionals in their respective sports. Fans of athletes that take part in the Body Issue could respect an athlete more for the hard work they put in to eating healthy, and working out, etc.

Elena Hight posed nude for the Body Issue, and said that taking care of her body is her life. elena_hight_hamilton-600x552

“Your body is all you have in this lifetime, so taking care of it and honoring it is a huge part of my life. As an athlete, you ask so much of your body all the time, so what you do to get that response is important.” (ESPN Body Issue)

So, for these athletes, their bodies are all they have, and ESPN and SI uses art and photography to show the hard work athletes have achieved to create beauty in the bodies that is important to them.

However, do these magazines realize that they could be over-sexualizing male and female athletes? Not every male and female athletes bodies looks like a athlete in the Body Issue, and it could mislead the typical teenager. Many athletes, like Hight, begin to think that all they have is their bodies and they make their bodies their idols.

Second, the ESPN Body Issue could teach young teenagers or athletes improper ways to become healthy and toned. Young teenagers and athletes may just see that they need to be constantly working out and then, as a result not get the proper nutrition and struggle with eating disorders.

Third, as a young teenager or athlete strives to be the best, they will become dissatisfied with their bodies. Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried and USA women’s soccer player Sydney Leroux were photographed in the ESPN Body Issue, but told the magazine that they struggle with their bodies, have insecurities, and have work to do, too.

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets

Faried: “It was a surprise for guys in the NBA when they realized how strong I was. With most people, you see the brute strength. With me, you don’t see it all. I’ve always had problems keeping weight on. I wish my thighs were thicker; it’d be better if I could move people out of my way instead of having to jump over them all the time.” (ESPN the Body Issue)


Leroux: “I think it’s a big deal to be an athlete and feel confident in your body and show it off. I wasn’t confident in high school where there were no people of my ethnicity. Everyone was blond and skinny, and I was different. It made me want to be something I wasn’t. But I’ve reached a point in my life where I am happy with who I am.” (ESPN the Body Issue)

Gilmore went on to say she is insecure about her body.

“You look at these beautiful women in magazines or the muscly and toned athletes in the Body Issues … you feel those normal insecurities like any young girl. But in the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about how to treat my body and how to value it. I got to a point where I didn’t stress about my insecurities.” (ESPN W – the Body Issue)

Kerri Walsh-Jennings posed nude for the magazine while being pregnant, and not pregnant, and said she still has work to do with her body.


“I’m supposed to be tight and toned and strong, but I have a lot more work to do.” (ESPN W – the Body Issue)

Like Faried, Leroux, Gilmore, or Walsh-Jennings, athletes struggle with their appearance and many young teenagers, and athletes do too. The difference the media, athletes, schools, coaches, teams need to do a better job helping young teenagers and athletes cope with body image. Young teenagers and athletes must recognize that no body is perfect, and each body is different. Appreciate the body that God has given you, and that God has made you unique and in his image.

In conclusion, whether ESPN’s Body Issue or SI’s Swimsuit Edition is selling sex or not, have the mindset that these individuals have worked hard to create beauty in their bodies. As an individual, respect the athletes, and know that they have struggled like you may have. Know that you are unique and different.

Finally, the biggest addition the magazines may make is to show athletes that aren’t as muscular, or as strong because there is no perfect body.

Please feel free to comment!

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