Sex Sells: Bleiler Bares All for ESPN Body Issue

So the ESPN “Body” issue is out and it made some waves (that I wanted to ignore) because pro snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler is baring it all. Again. Bleiler, who has practically made a career of posing nude (and later regretting it) has bought in to the “respected publication” hype, saying this time, “I feel like I had control and so I felt more confident about doing it.”

ESPN's Body Issue feat. Gretchen Bleiler, Louie Vito
ESPN's Body Issue feat. Gretchen Bleiler

I’m not some Puritan suggesting that people should feel shame about their bodies. On the contrary I wish we lived in a society that was more accepting.  Unfortunately for all this talk about freedom and equality you’ve got to admit that we live in such a bizarre hyper-sexualized (and at the same time sexually repressed) society that this is kind of a big deal for all the wrong reasons.

For starters, it’s a big deal because it shouldn’t be a big deal. Women’s liberation, pride, equality, etc. Sexuality shouldn’t be repressed. The human form should be celebrated rather than shamed, etc. I’ve got nothing against any of that. But the other half of the people are talking about how they’d “take her to pound town” or “tap that ass” or some other vulgar misogynist fantasy. And on top of objectifying women in general, the focus contributes further to unhealthy and unrealistic expectations.

Is it wrong of me to infer that this is basically about selling sex to ESPN’s mostly male demographic? You don’t have to look much further than the ESPN teaser which includes three images:

  • A full-sized two-pic split shot of Bleiler in the buff
  • A full-sized pic of pro surfer Steph Gilmore
  • A tiny thumbnail afterthought of Louie Vito

In my opinion this sort of piece is just a shock-and-awe campaign designed to sell more mags and more ad space. In the end, it takes the focus away from legitimately talented athletes and turns everything in to a “who has the best tits?” pageant.

What about the girls who idolize these athletes – what message are they getting out of this? Does this contribute anything positive to women’s snowboarding? Or even to women’s sports in general? Here’s a sampling of the pics (yes, for the most part they are tastefully/artistically well-done but may be considered NSFW).

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Sex Sells: Bleiler Bares All for ESPN Body Issue

  1. Huh. Well at first I was surprised by this. Didn’t think Gretchen would pose nude. I mean, I have a poster of her on my wall and I’m so used to seeing her fully clothed in snowboard gear so nothing but skin was a shocker. I definitely think ESPN does the body issue to sell sex. It’s like Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
    I do back their reasoning that they’re celebrating the human body though. Sure they’re mainly doing it because it sells, but there’s a positive message behind it too. After seeing those photos of Gretchen I’m inspired to work more on my body and make better health choices. I didn’t realize there were snowboarders with such intense muscles but now I have a goal to get myself closer to that level of fitness.

    1. Hi Jenise – thanks for the comment. You’re right, there certainly *is* a positive message behind it, I just question the motives and, unfortunately we still live in a society where the human body is considered taboo. It’s kind of a catch-22: the more we see things like the Body Issue, the less taboo it becomes and hopefully in the future, this won’t be an “issue”.

  2. “it takes the focus away from legitimately talented athletes” well said.

    I don’t see how the ESPN issue is helping women in action sports. I am not lobbying against it but I’m also not running out to buy an issue for myself or my daughter.

    To make it a little more interesting I think they should have featured me in the issue! A fit snowboarding mother of three ~ now that’s an inspiration! ;-)

    1. Now that’s what I’m talking about!!!

      To make it a little more interesting I think they should have featured me in the issue! A fit snowboarding mother of three ~ now that’s an inspiration! ;-)

      1. haha, maybe next year they’ll ask!

        Seriously, the ESPN Body issue is just a spin off of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit mag. I think a beautiful nudish pic of an athlete accompanied by an awesome article outlining their accomplishments in a traditional mag issue could have a WOW factor far greater and with respect. The fact is, women are beautiful (all shapes and sizes) and that doesn’t need be suppressed but it shouldn’t be the subject. If it is, then just pose in Playboy already!

  3. I will argue on your side all day about how they blow up the female athletes and reduce the very talented Louie Vito to a thumbnail. But I will say there is a very positive message to be had. However, the only way to get this message across is proper parenting. These are all pro-athletes. Teach your kids that being a physically active individual has many benefits and a body seemingly sculpted by a God is one of them. It also shows that athleticism is recognized by the world.

    That’s the key to most of these types of media exposure… parenting. If your daughter is making herself puke to look like Gretchen Bleiler, she got the wrong message. My beef is with parents, not media. We have the option of ignoring media and parents have the power to limit the intake by their children. Of course, it’s impossible to filter everything that your children are exposed to. Hence proper parenting.

    As an adult, if you’re offended by this type of publication, don’t buy it. That’s the best thing you can do if you do not like these types of corporate practices… don’t give them your money or time.

    Also, totally agree with you about this being targeted to ESPN’s male demographic which is probably the majority. Agreed that our society is strangely apprehensive about sexuality, yet it is at the same time driven by it. I absolutely hate that a bare boob or crotch shot causes an uproar, but a corner store surveillance footage of a cashier being shot point blank on the news is acceptable. Then we have all that other violence on shows. Not that I hate or don’t watch these types of programs, just that a naked body is not a big deal amongst them.

    1. It’s such a catch-22 man… it’s like, this sort of thing should be totally OK. But it’s not. Until it is, people are going to freak and take the wrong message, or do it for the wrong reasons, etc. And the only way to get past that puritan nonsense is to keep doing it, anyways.

  4. Anytime a woman is half clothed or naked, it is to sell it to a male demographic. I understand in a way why women think it is liberating to be able to pose nude, but to me it’s just another form of patriarchy. It’s unfortunate that every single sport has to become sexualized in one way or another. I commend Bleiler and Gilmore for having the courage to be proud of their bodies and themselves but naked women in magazines, no matter how “artfully done” it may be, is oppressive, degrading and offensive. These women are professional athletes–of course they have nice bodies–why do we have to prove it? I wish seeing the female body wasn’t such a taboo thing, but it is and always will be when it is for a male audience that does not see any form of art, just a naked woman for whom they can make sexually suggestive (and idiotic) remarks. I agree with you and others, posing nude does indeed take focus away from the legitimacy that female athletes have/had. As a woman, I do not find it empowering to bare all. As for your question, “does this contribute anything positive to women’s snowboarding?”–for me, the answer is NO.

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