I've always quite enjoyed the Swimming Times - a bit over-focussed on the elite end of things for my taste, but a good mix of different aspects of swimming, reasonable coverage of open water swimming etc. Plus, unlike other specialist magazines such as those covering triathlon, there are high levels of coverage of female athletes. So, my heart sank when I opened the August 2010 issue to find this "centrefold" of synchronised swimmer, Jenna Randall.
[5/5/12: this picture has now been removed from this post. Following a dramatic spike in hits, I discovered that members of a football club fan site had linked to the picture as part of a thread about female athletes they'd like to have sex with. This sort of proves my point about sexualisation, but I've also taken the picture down so as not to contribute to that process.]
I wrote to ST, who subsequently published the letter, with a reply, both of which I have copied in full below:
"I was really disappointed to open my most recent copy of the Swimming Tiems to see that it included a highly sexualised centrefold spread of synchronised swimmer, Jenna Randall.
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with swimming, and simply perpetuatues the idea that women are there to be looked at. Why did we not see a picture of this athlete performing or training? All this picture does is tell young women that how they look is more important than what they can do."
Reply from editor:
"I disagree that the picture referred to has nothing to do with swimming. The whole point of us using it was to emphasise that Jenna is a swimmer and an athlete, and to show that in addition to how she is normally seen in the environment of her sport, she is also a glamorous young woman out of the pool - who could be attractive to model agencies and to sponsors. It was also something different for the magazine as we could always (as we have many times before) print action pictures (of Jenna) from synchro or other athletes from swimming or diving, but we wanted to show one of our athletes in a different light, and raise their profile slightly beyond the action in the pool.
And we are pleased to note that Jenna has recently received sponsorship from Kellogg's"
Now....my first objection to this is that contrary to the editor's defence, the picture itself does not, in any way emphasise that she is a swimmer and an athlete (although the small text box on the next page does mention her sport....and the fact that she is curling her toes in the picture like they do when they swim to make their legs look longer). Secondly, the picture is highly sexualised in both clothing and posture, and consequently, highly out of place in the official magazine of the ASA. This is not an argument based on prudishness - more one of context. That she is pictured in a semi-recumbant, come-hither posture with her clothing sliding up her legs and down her shoulders would fit perfectly in a soft porn publication, but in a sports magazine engaged in the promotion of swimming, it's just gratuitous and offensive. Young women should not have to sexualise themselves, and be sexualised by others, in order to gain sponsorship or paid employment, and it's a shame to see ST endorsing this as a legitimate way to view female athletes. What a young girl can learn from this that it's great to be good at sport, but that to really get on, you also need to be sexualised and beautiful...and another generation of body-dissatisfied young women is born.
I realise that this is not necessarily a popular view in some quarters, but this stuff drives me nuts. Oh well...at least that's a magazine to cross off the list.