Tonight, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh will compete for their third consecutive gold
medal in beach volleyball. (Update: they won!) Back in the July issue of Allure, they were profiled in a story called “Golden Girls,” which, by the way, is a title so played out it should be banned. Especially when, in the case of this article, the text is less about gold medals and more about, well, ass.
And not just the lingering shots of barely clad butts that you’ve come to expect from the quality coverage of beach volleyball available to us here in the USA. (Thanks, NBC!) No, Allure manages, somehow, to take the media’s obsession with beach volleyball players’ bodies to Olympian heights.
The article opens on a Southern California beach. May-Treanor and Walsh, wearing bathing suits (of course), are walking on the beach to their practice spot. Along the way, they capture the attention of a man playing a casual game of volleyball. Imagine if you were playing volleyball in the sand, and along come the world’s foremost players. What would you think?
Pretty much the exact opposite of this guy, I’m guessing. Also, unlike this chump, you’d probably be able to form complete sentences.
His reaction, so insightful it apparently demanded to be immortalized in print:
“Ass, ass, ass, ass, ass,” he mumbled to his teammates. As if on cue, a small crowd of tourists, surfers, lifeguards…squinted into the blazing sun to watch the women walk by.
“Ass, ass, ass, ass,” the man repeated, a little louder this time. “That’s some five-star ass.”
Was his comment offensive? Sure. Objectifying? Of course. But accurate? …Absolutely.
Was his comment disgusting? Sure. Would it be street harassment if it had occurred there instead of on the beach? Of course. But Allure still thought it necessary to include? Absolutely! And in case you didn’t get exactly what this guy was carrying on about, because “ass, ass, ass” is really quite complex, Allure helpfully included this giant picture of–you guessed it!–what appears to be Walsh’s ass.
There’s not actually a caption explaining whose ass it is, at least not in the Kindle edition, so I deduced based on the bikini. Congratulations, Allure! You’ve just won the gold medal in the dehumanizing the subjects of your article!
Next, the article details the women’s accomplishments, but veers almost immediately into something far more challenging: bikini line hair removal! Because what’s really important isn’t their world championships, it’s their pubic hair. Then:
Therein lies a dichotomy: Yes, they are extremely serious athletes [apparently it's necessary to remind the reader of this, since the author has done little to relay this key point], but there is no getting around the fact that they’re also “girls running around in bikinis,” as Walsh puts it.
Yes, hard to get around that, when a national magazine opens its profile with a story specifically highlighting that.
While it’s a relief to know that these women have hang-ups about their bodies…
It’s not a relief. It’s terrible. I know this line is supposed to make Walsh and May-Treanor seem relatable, but it’s depressing as hell. If I ever manage to reconfigure my DNA so that I too can be six feet tall and totally ripped, I will walk around naked. Constantly. In public. THERE SHALL BE NO HANGUPS.
Off the beach, the women are plenty girlish.
Oh good! I wouldn’t want their lives as professional athletes to somehow diminish a total stranger’s arbitrary assessment of how much they resemble a child!
You get the idea. In the every-four-years glut of women’s mag articles about athletes, “Golden Girls” fits right in. And while it’s kind of annoying to see athletes reduced to such trifles when I’d rather know, say, how they stay focused, the beauty articles make some sense. I mean, I go swimming once a week and my hair is like steel wool for days after–so, sure, I would like to know what conditioner Natalie Coughlin uses.
But, other than an aside about oily sunscreens affecting the volleyball, Allure‘s article never quite achieves that winning (sorry) combination of unique athletic perspective and fun beauty chat. The piece talks about how the two look great in bikinis, but not how to select a perfectly fitting one. It mentions how well sand exfoliates, but not how to moisturize after. And, of course, there is the ass picture.
At one point in the story, Walsh says, “I can honestly say I haven’t felt objectified one day in my life.” I hope, after Allure‘s article, she still feels that way.