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Bare in Mind

Sept. 04, 2000
Sept. 04, 2000

Table of Contents
Sept. 4, 2000

Olympics 2000 [bonus Piece]

Bare in Mind

Wow, Jenny Thompson has a nice pair, doesn't she? Massive. Firm.
Perfectly shaped.

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2000 issue Original Layout

Her thighs, I mean.

At least that's what blew me away when I saw the five-time
Olympic gold-medalist swimmer topless, hands over her breasts, in
these pages recently (photo, page 18). Killer thighs that could
crush anvils. Calves sharp enough to slice tomato. Biceps that
ought to be on a box of baking soda.

So why do some women have their girdles all in a wad? Why is the
Women's Sports Foundation (WSF) so upset? Why did former WSF
president Donna de Varona say of Thompson and other women
athletes who have posed nude, "I want them to keep their clothes
on." Why did USA Today columnist Christine Brennan go all Aunt
Bea, complaining that the Thompson picture "sends [girls] the
insecure message that an old stereotype still lives and thrives.
If you doubt this, look at the picture and notice where your eye
goes first...right to her chest."

What a load of hypocrites. When Dennis Rodman posed nude on a
motorcycle, I don't recall Brennan complaining about where
women's eyes went. Lance Armstrong, Dan O'Brien and Ricky
Williams have all posed nude, and I don't remember de Varona
rushing around trying to get them to put on a towel.

"I don't get this," WSF executive director Donna Lopiano told The
Orlando Sentinel. "When you've spent half your life looking down
at the line at the bottom of the pool--and you've given up
everything--it's incongruent to take that body you worked so hard
to build and use it for sex."

I agree, Ms. Lopiano. You don't get it. Thompson took her
clothes off because she spent her whole life looking at the
bottom of swimming pools. If she had to miss a lifetime of proms
and parties and triple fudge cake, at least she should be able
to show the world what she was building in the gym six hours a
day. "I'm proud of my body," Thompson says, "and the work it's
taken to get it where it is."

Retired Olympic swimmer Anita Nall told ESPN's Outside the Lines
that the picture gives young girls the message that "women
achieve empowerment through sexuality." But I don't see sex in
that picture. Thompson isn't half in heat. She's not pouring a
pitcher of milk on herself. She's not biting her knuckles. She's
just standing there, staring right at us, confident, strong, with
a look that says, C'mon, let's wrestle. You'll lose.

I mean, look at that picture! That picture tells you more about
the kind of dedication it takes to be an Olympian than could be
said in an entire issue of Women's Sports and Fitness. Maybe
that's why Women's Sports and Fitness just ran nude shots of
Thompson along with sister swimmers Dara Torres, Amy Van Dyken
and Angel Martino.

And it's not just them. The Australian women's soccer team and
Katarina Witt and Brandi Chastain and 12 women U.S. track and
field athletes, including middle-distance runner Nnenna Lynch and
high jumpers Amy Acuff and Tisha Waller, and plenty others have
also posed in the buff. There's no old stereotype here. These
women aren't hung up about getting liberated. They are liberated,
were born that way. They're coming from a whole new place in
feminism--rugged, gorgeous, prideful athleticism--free of the old
butch, male-hater stereotype women jocks used to fight.

That's what's really insulting about this prude uproar. These
aren't 18-year-old girls having to strip at the Baby Doll Club to
pay their rent. These are intelligent, grown women. Thompson is
heading for medical school. Lynch is a Rhodes scholar. Waller is
a churchgoing former elementary school teacher. It's kind of like
the Herminator holding up his Atomics or Richard Petty standing
next to his Plymouth. Hey, you wanna see under the hood? Aren't
these grumpy women pro choice?

Bad messages? Here are women with real bodies, fit bodies,
attainable bodies--not bodies you can only get through the Lucky
Gene Club or plastic surgery or throwing up your lunch every day.
You want a bad message? Set up Elle Macpherson as the ideal
feminine role model. Trying to be 5'11", 103 pounds with a
22-inch waist and a 38-inch bust sends a bad message.

Thompson sends young girls a terrific message: Fit is sexy.
Muscles are sexy. Sport is sexy. Give it a try sometime.

And will somebody please remind de Varona that ancient Olympians
competed in the nude in the first place?

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
Jenny Thompson's topless portrait sends young girls a terrific
message: Fit is sexy. Muscles are sexy. Sport is sexy.