In which I probably make too much of a chance encounter

Last night, the Better Half and I opted for pizza. (Play along with me that this is not a dinner option that we exercise regularly.) When I went to pick it, Lindsey Vonn's rather spectacular wipe-out was being replayed and discussed on the TV.

What followed was one of those rare occasions wherein I am mistaken for a heterosexual. (It happens, people. Typically when I avoid using words like "wherein.")

Pizza guy #1: She better be careful not to do anything to that body.

Pizza guy #2: If she can't keep skiing, I'll bet she could make some money posing for Playboy.

Me: Or they might put her on a box of "Wheaties." *beats hasty retreat*

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Lindsey Vonn has won a couple of medals during these Olympics. One of them was gold. She is considered the best female American alpine skier, right?

Now, I know that this was just a Random Conversation at a local pizza place. I don't think Pizza Guys #1 and #2 are valid proxies for heterosexual guys in general. But neither do I think their notions are completely divorced from social attitudes as a whole.

Nobody (that I'm aware of) thought that Bode Miller would turn to a career in nude modeling after his incredibly over-hyped and disappointing showing in Turin four years ago. (With the exception of disaffected one-time GOP baby daddies, nude modeling is generally considered a poor career choice.) Despite his being a handsome chap, America was and is far more interested in his athletic prowess than his relative hotness.

This is not to say that Lindsey Vonn doesn't have a slew of promising endorsement deals waiting for her, or that she is not deservedly respected as a world-class athlete of the highest degree. To aver otherwise would be absurd. But I suspect that for a lot of American sports viewers (read: heterosexual men), her hotness is the first thing they notice, and respect for her athleticism is a secondary consideration.

What say you, readers? Women, do you think I'm right? Straight men, am I being unfair? Gay men, do you secretly hope that Bode Miller considers nude modeling as a possible career choice? The comments are yours.


  1. You participated in a misogynistic and juvenile straight-male bonding ritual more commonly known as "Yeah, I'd do her." Lindsey Vonn was the foil for this game, but the game was played entirely between you and Pizza Guys 1-2. By referencing the Wheaties box as opposed to, say, lingerie, you made a rather weak play (although it speaks well of your underlying feminism).

    As for a female athlete's public profile, particularly after her athletic career peaks, I think she needs to pick a path.

    Some athletes are subsequently still mainly identified by the public for their athletic prowess (Picabo Street, Annika Sorenstaam, the Williams sisters) and others primarily for being attractive (Gabrielle Reece, Katerina Witt), but that has a lot to do with the way they manage their careers and the image they project to the public. I can't think of any female athletes who have been able to project images of both athleticism and sexiness at the same time; Reece is about the closest to that I can think of this morning. But the choice, I think, comes from the fact that both the entertainment career path or the athletics career path take up a tremendous amount of time when pursued with enough vigor to make a real impact. Modeling may seem easy but it does consume a large amount of the model's time, and the same is true with coaching and performing in athletic competitions and seeking endorsements and such.

    Vonn made waves with a cover of Sports Illustrated that was allegedly "too sexy," although to my eyes the cover emphasized her athleticism more than her good looks. Now, she is attractive enough to pursue modeling, but she's also very athletic and as unlucky in these Olympics as Bode Miller was in Turin four years ago. So right now, she could go either way and she'll probably want to work hard at skiing to see if things go more smoothly for her four years from now in Sochi.

  2. My $0.02 - Ms. Vonn is a Olympic medalist skier who happens to be attractive. I think she'd be considered attractive in virtually any context, but I also think her attractiveness is a secondary consideration to her athletic prowess, even for the Wheaties PR department. IOW, yes, America and het men think of her primarily as an athlete, IMVVHO.

  3. Something I've noticed is how mainstream porn is getting. You have Sasha Grey in ads for PETA (okay, they're over the top, but still). You have people pose for Playboy and it's not considered a degradation of any kind, just a shrewd business move. Younger men freely discuss their porn habits with female friends without a shred of embarrassment.

    Once upon a time, it was looked at as degrading. Think of the lyrics for Centerfold (if that's indicative of culture at all)...he feels his memory is tarnished by seeing his high school crush in a porn mag.

    I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. I just notice it.

  4. "America was and is far more interested in Miller's athletic prowess" Please, it was far more interested in his personality and his looks.
    Personality and looks trump talent (provided you have some) as far as publicity goes. Even exceptional talent and good looks are not even enough if you consider Pete Sampras, one of the greatest tennis players of all time. If he had a personality like Agassi, he probably would have doubled his ad revenues.

    And for the record, Vonn is attractive, but not stunning. If she were not famous for skiing she wouldn't be selected to be a playboy model.


  5. I dunno. That Shaun White guy seems to get plenty of press.

  6. Dan, Shaun White is overflowing with personality, and his looks match his personality, which goes along with snowboarding. Shaun White looks like a snowboarder, an x-treme sports kind of guy. As I mentioned above, it ain't just pretty boy (or girl) looks and talent that sells, personality is essential. Quick, who is the worlds heavyweight champion boxer? But Ali you know full well.


  7. Welcome to America, Dan, where women are useful primarily for their aesthetic value. Even in the midst of a discussion about one's career, evaluation is not based on intelligence, academic achievement, professional respect, or personality. It all comes down to what Transplanted Lawyer mentions: do-ability.
    I say you're right. Charo has a point about the culture of charm and good-looks, and about the fact that the media highlights attractive people of all professions over people who are really good at their jobs.
    But the immediate reference to sexuality over all other relevant human qualities is reserved for women. By men.

  8. It's just this sort of discussion that leaves me waffling between "Fair-play-to-her" and indignance/disappointment with regard to Danica Patrick, depending on whether I'll feeling feminish or post-feminish.
    But I think Charo is right (and NBC's coverage reflects this): the American public is (or thinks it is) far more interested in the Celebrity Bad Behavior Potential (CBBP) of the athletes than their athletic prowess.

  9. Dan is sadly correct, I think. It is a bit hypocritical of me to say "sadly", though, because I am far closer to the Pizza Guys than to enlightenment, much as I would rather pretend differently. For me the dynamic here is this: I don't care much about downhill skiing (though a million times more than cross-country). As a fan of sports, if there is someone who is historically dominating, I might care, but not just for a good skier. However, I do care about attractive women, probably more than they or the courts feel comfortable with. So yes, I think of Vonn primarily as a good-looking woman, and then as an athlete.

    I think a lot of het men are like this with women's sports. I generally don't care much for women's sports, which, again, I know I sound like a jerk. But they are boring to me. So if there is an attractive WNBA player, I will think of her more as a good-looking woman than how she is in her sport. On the flip side, I like women's tennis, and so think of the Williams sisters or Kournikova on their talent first, and as sexual objects second.

    I honestly can't believe how much of a fratty asshole I sound like here, but I think this is how it works. Now, if you'll excuse me, some of my Sig Ep brothers and I are going hunting and then voting Republican.