Sex sells. But should it in skiing?

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 10/28/14 •  8 min read

Good question. It’s one that’s been generating a fascinating discussion over at—right now the thread is 12 pages and growing. After all, we’ve all seen the pictures of scantily clad high-profile women skiers posing in nothing but lingerie and ski boots. Does this do them a disservice? Can’t women skiers stand on just their abilities and achievements? Or do they need to be sexually provocative in order to get attention?

As you’d imagine, there are as many opinions on this as there are women on the forum, so my voice is only one of the many. That said, I’ll be upfront: I’m an unabashed feminist. I mean, I get it. People like to look at women’s bodies. They’re beautiful. Even I recognize that. And I realize the window for these women to cash in on their fame is fairly small. They’re big for a year or two, and then, poof! Someone else is in the spotlight. If they find it agreeable to make money posing in skimpy outfits, well, it’s legal and they’re adults. They can do as they like. No argument there.

Nonetheless, I find if profoundly sad that they find it necessary to do this at all. It’s demoralizing when a woman who’s an Olympic-level skier poses suggestively in an ad for ski gear. These are world class athletes who should be celebrated simply for their abilities — not because they’re posing with their tush hanging out of a thong and a come-hither look in their eyes. I think it objectifies them and diminishes their accomplishments. What’s more, I don’t think it does anything to sell to the women’s market — if that’s the intent — and only sexualizes them to men. I mean, I’d buy ski boots a lot quicker if I saw a woman using them to rip down the mountain, instead of posing with them half undressed.

Okay. Deep breath. Enough of a rant.

As I said before, the thread on the forum is long and there are loads of opinions. But here are a few:

• It’s mostly disturbing to me that there are women who feel like they have to do this. Certainly not in a “gun to the head” sort of way, but I don’t think most of us have ever been in the position where we could do the sport we love full time and perhaps improve significantly if we could make the extra money from semi-nude advertisements, or we could try to train while doing another job to make ends meet. THAT is honestly the main concept that disturbs me. And while I like to be optimistic and think that I’d hold my ground and not let that sway my decisions if I were in that position… it might feel different if I were. I also agree that perhaps the MORE annoying thing is that advertisements such as that feel like the company is only concerned with advertising to men. Hah, now if they had a similar photo of a guy on the next page…. 😉

• As I see it, athletes are celebrities. And further, they are celebrities that happen to have pretty brilliant physical attributes due to the fact that they are athletes. So people are going to want to make them into sex symbols. I do see that this happens more with women than with men, sure. Some of it boils down to the fact that men tend to be more visually stimulated and women less so (it’s the same reason why men are more into sex-driven porn while women may tend to find plot-driven porn or literary porn more of a turn-on). Some of it may be patriarchy, etc.  The difference I see now is that woman now can CHOOSE whether they want themselves to be viewed this way. They can choose to be ‘just’ an athlete or they can choose to be a sex symbol. And they can be both.

• First of all, I truly believe that a woman should be free to direct her own future in whatever manner she decides. It is irrelevant whether or not I approve of her choices. Secondly, I do believe that top athletes would be hired as spokespeople regardless of their appearance. Corporations like to hire winners. If the female athletes were not beautiful and sexy, the company would create a different style of advertisement. They want to sell their product. The sad truth is that, in the ski industry, male consumers outnumber female consumers 2 to 1. Those Lange boot ads are not selling to women; they are selling to men. It’s about name brand recognition. If Julia weren’t beautiful, Lange would have created a different style of ad for her. I’m not saying that Lange wouldn’t have done the sexy female athlete ads as well … they would have, but they wanted Julia because she is a winner, a top athlete, and would have created an ad that worked. I am not offended by her choice to pose in sexy ads. She is earning a living while she is still successful.

• Yes, women are entitled to do with their bodies what they want. But when they are told that the only way they can be a role model/public figure/spokesperson is to strip down, it’s not a fair choice anymore. Those Lange posters, like so many others, really market to men. If they marketed to me, they’d give me a woman/skier that I wanted to be. Not an underwear model.

• I think it’s sad that so many Divas (hey, me included) add the caveat of ‘IF I had her athletic body, I’d strip down. too.’ Why if? Who got to decide that my body is less valuable than someone else’s? A whole separate conversation, I know. But that does bring it back to can a women’s sport survive without sexualization of the athletes? In this day and age, right now? Sadly, I don’t think so. Not that I don’t want it that way or think it can never happen. But women equals sex in the public eye. The fact that we say we won’t bare our bodies unless they look a certain way punctuates that for me. It’s something we all need to keep fighting, and continue to change for the next generation. Geez, it’s something I need to keep working on for me! Value my athleticism and drive and passion, not criticize my thighs, love handles and flappy bird arms.

• I think that because the number of pro male athletes is so much greater than the number of pro female athletes that it’s more noticeable when a female athlete does a somewhat provocative ad. Moreover, members of this forum are particularly attuned to female athletes, particularly skiing, to the point where if a male basketball player did a provocative cover or ad, few of us would even know about it. But, we all know when “one of our own” is getting publicity. I’m sure there are dozens of deodorant, soap, razor, aftershave, etc. ads featuring pro MLB, NFL, NBA players either in the shower or locker room wearing only a towel. And sure, they’re not using pouty lips, but you can’t deny that part of the reason they are in the shower or locker room is to somehow attract women watching sports with boyfriends or husbands.

• OK, this is one of my major pet peeves – sexualizing women who should be able to sell magazines, TV ads, etc on their own merits. I fear for our young girls because there are not many strong female role models who do not compromise themselves by selling sex-driven photos. I understand that to make the big money endorsements such as Sports Illustrated covers, female athletes get sexualized. It is just sad that their isn’t a publication that can promote female athletes with more dignity and less sensationalism.

• Athletes compete because this is what they are good at. Pretty women may enjoy posing for the same reason – they are good at it and look good doing this. So is it too difficult to imagine one person being both – a pretty woman and an athlete – and do things they are good at and like doing? I tend to agree that it’s neither good nor bad to their sport, more like neutral. But if there are people who will think less of an athlete and the sport she represents because she chose to pose nude or in some tight clothes, it’s not the athlete who has to change. I would say that the choice they make is a logical one – neither athletic ability nor looks last forever, so it would be reasonable to capitalize on both. And no one is ever “respected” for looks. “Looks” is a visual characteristic that do not command respect. People respect efforts, talents and achievements but not someone’s height or weight or hair colour. But yeah, sure some will be remembered mostly for looks but this is usually because their achievements in their sport are fairly obscure… And to complicated matters worse, you can have someone with remarkable athletic talent and good looks but when this person opens their mouth…. Important lesson here: beware of creating role models.

• It  goes back to expecting too much from sporting figures as role models. If a female entertainer puts on something too sexy for good taste, we just shake our head and change channels. Why can’t we do the same with women skiers/cyclists?

You can read the thread in its entirety here. So what do you think?

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