My daughter was recently asked by an adult acquaintance, in jest, "are you smart or are you beautiful?" He thought he was paying her a compliment, and it was taken in that spirit, but the dichotomy has kind of stuck in my head.
- I didn't want them to do makeup for the show, which would've been thematic but a) we didn't have time and b) it seemed too "grown-up." Why was I comfortable with "fancy" clothes but not makeup?
-My daughter was recently asked by an adult acquaintance, in jest, "are you smart or are you beautiful?" He thought he was paying her a compliment, and it was taken in that spirit, but the dichotomy has kind of stuck in my head.
- Is it shallow and anti-feminist to be very interested in fashion? Why or why not? Is some fashion more feminist than other fashion? If so, what's the dividing line?
Regarding the "soft porn" photo spread (as you put it) in this month's GQ: Is Daniela Hantuchova lying to us when she repeatedly claims that her tennis is all that matters, only to do photos like this? Or, as your comments insinuate, is someone higher up in the WTA-- or, God forbid, managers or agents -- pushing players to parade in front of the cameras in this way? If someone at the WTA is in charge of this, questions need to be raised about the tour's promotional tactics and sense of morality. We all know that sex sells, but the WTA had made a point, pre-Anna Kournikova, of not doing so this blatantly. What's the deal?
—Andrew Keith, Cincinnati
The WTA Tour's fingerprints are all over this (perhaps that's an unfortunate choice of words). The tour has, unrepentantly, chosen to peddle the sex appeal of its players, and lately hands were being wrung over who could replace the desultory Kournikova (see: Popova, Simonya). To the WTA braintrust, the GQ photo shoot was a great coup. Here are three more young faces to make sure women's tennis still rates in the babe department. (Some of us in the media were even given a breathless heads-up from WTA HQ that a salacious spread was forthcoming.) Rest assured the players' agents were in on this, too. Suffice to say, magazines aren't going directly to players and convincing them to pose nude on the backs of large mammals.
This subject is ripe for healthy debate. When female athletes pose in various states of undress or underscore their sexuality in other ways, are they empowered? Or are they being exploited? The simple answer is that it's about taste, context and packaging. If in winning her third straight Grand Slam Serena Williams wears a Lycra catsuit on the court that accentuates her form, that's great. If Brandi ("I ran my ass off for this body") Chastain wants to pose naked with a strategically placed soccer ball prior to the World Cup, good for her. If swimmer Jenny Thompson wants to pose topless in Sports Illustrated, flexing her muscles, the photo accompanied by a glowing 2,000-word article about her athletic achievements, more power to her. If Kournikova wants to vamp on the cover of a magazine, and a lengthy article on the inside extols her tennis, so be it.
To issue a blanket condemnation is to end up sounding like the village scold or some moralizing Dr. Laura. Let's also be realistic and acknowledge that if the women posed only in starched linens for tennis-specific magazines, the sport would have the popularity and appeal of the LPGA Tour. The critical question: Is the subject ultimately being portrayed as an athlete or as a sex kitten?
In the latest GQ, the answer is obvious. As the breathless cover blurb "Three Eastern Bloc Hotties Who'll Make You Forget Anna What's-her-name?" would suggest, this is 100 percent cheesecake. Visually, nothing in the spread indicates that these are elite athletes, much less tennis players. Myskina is naked on a horse -- a horse, we're told, that became visibly excited when she hopped aboard. Hantuchova is in a post-coitus pose, her hands behind her head, her legs spread. Elena Dementieva is giving us a glimpse of her panties, one of her hands inexplicably bound. This has nothing to do with celebrating the human form or posing subjects artistically; this is simply (hyper)sexualizing the women in question (and providing fodder for onanists everywhere).
We also have the matter of "informed consent." Chastain was 30, a wife and a stepmom, when she posed naked. Thompson was in her late 20s, a Stanford graduate headed to med school. When, for that matter, a Jason Sehorn poses in his underwear for a Jockey ad, he does so as a thirtysomething married man. Hard to make the case they didn't know what they were getting into. Anyone who has dealt with the three "Eastern Bloc Hotties" in question has to wonder whether they understood the implications of what they were doing. Mary Carillo recently said that Hantuchova is "totally clueless" that she is being marketed as a sex object. And Carillo is right. You have an icky feeling that the three players (none over 21, none raised in the U.S.) were sweet-talked by tour operatives and simply thought this was an easy way to fulfill one of their dreaded Aces obligations. (An aside: When the tour oversees photo shoots of players showing undergarments and laying naked atop horses, can it really be shocked that the sport has a problem with stalkers?)
Perhaps above all, pictorials like this have the effect of trivializing women's tennis and minimizing the achievements of the players. I was a guest on a radio show the other day and a caller phoned in to ask "if that chick who was naked on the horse has a wild reputation." It's a shame that the caller didn't know Myskina's name or care about her tennis abilities, especially since she likely will finish the year in the top 10. It's a worse shame that the WTA Tour is complicit in this.
- Is it shallow and anti-feminist to be very interested in fashion?
Is some fashion more feminist than other fashion?
But yeah - I find it sort of frustrating and sad. I wish I never had to look at another picture of a teen-age girl in a tight dress sticking her tongue out and licking another girl's face.
I'd rather see them out rock-climbing or something.
But I feel judgmental saying that.