ESPN Cashes in on Body Politics

Given the enormous success of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, ESPN has long looked for ways to compete without enraging the groups that typically lambaste Sports Illustrated every year. Their solution, is the Body Issue, a magazine where ESPN prints gloriously edited glamour images of nude athletes with “tastefully” positioned tools of their trade.

The battle cry of the issue: You are beautiful, no matter what shape you are. On the surface, it’s an inspiring message of body confidence and comfort in one’s own skin. The issue does go to great lengths to include bodies of all shapes and sizes, as long as they are optimal for that particular sport. It’s an interesting tactic guaranteed to accomplish at least one thing: it will get people clicking and talking.

Some have already come to the magazine’s defense, lavishing praises on the covers, the photography, the subjects and all the other gosh darn awesomeness of the whole concept.

But, really let’s be honest. This is about naked people on magazine covers. Sex sells, even if that sex is embodied by bodies you don’t normally see on Cosmo or GQ.

But the key here, if you want to earn the accolades currently being heaped on ESPN, is to understand the body politics in play. Social norms and gender politics are in a constant state of flux, but the arenas in which these politics exist are no longer as differentiated and separate as they once were.

There was a time when folks who wanted to ogle naked bodies could do so without all the cultural conversational baggage. Those days are long gone. Every “body conscious” statement is subject to a monsoon of opinions, think pieces and round the clock attention and, if handled poorly, excoriation.

Into this arena, ESPN has proudly marched. Using sex to sell? Perish the thought (wink-wink). All these gorgeously edited nude world class athletes are on display to make you feel empowered and better about yourself.

Well, either that or they just want you to pretend that’s what you think when you toss that eye candy onto the checkout counter.

Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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