So maybe ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue isn’t as controversial as it used to be, but it’s still a hot topic when it’s released every year. Here are five reasons to love the 2013 celebration of the athletic form.
Another year, another installment of ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” Since 2009, the printed spin-off of the all-sports, all-the-time channel has been celebrating the perfectly chiseled bodies of athletes at the top of their game.
After five years, the annual Body Issue doesn’t quite have the same shock value it used to, but the editors still manage to keep the buzz alive around its content to make it the magazine’s most talked about edition year after year.
Here’s our take on what’s so great about ESPN The Magazine’s 2013 Body Issue.
It covers a variety of sports. The 2012 Body Issue—obviously inspired by the Summer Olympic Games—featured a bunch of buff athletes representing a wide range of sports. Even in the absence of such a major sporting event, the 2013 installment managed to impress again.
Aside from the baseball, basketball and football players that we expect to see, the 2013 issue covered an exceptional list of sports that are often overshadowed by the major ones. Among the athletes representing, an NHRA Funny Car Driver, motocross racer, snowboarder, boxer, UFC fighter and rock climbers.
It challenges long-held body image notions. For years, fashion magazines have nearly convinced us pencil thin is beautiful—especially when it comes to women’s bodies. But the female form featured in the Body Issue is anything but, making it a welcome challenge to that idea.
Notably, motocross racer and X-Games medalist Tarah Gieger’s muscular body is a far cry from the “thin is in” fashion mantra. But, further, it shows the level of conditioning required to succeed and Gieger’s dedication to do so.
It’s a reminder that age is just a number. This is closely related to body image, but we’re often conditioned to think that athletes beyond a certain age just fade away. But 77-year-old golfer Gary Player serves as a reminder—on one of the issue’s eight covers, no less—that just because you’re not in the prime of your career doesn’t mean you automatically let yourself go.
Perhaps even more fitting, especially in this vein, Player is the oldest athlete to ever be featured in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue.
It draws on artistic inspiration. The majority of the Body Issue’s photography is quite artistic anyway, using angles, shadows or props (sometimes ridiculous in nature) to cleverly conceal certain body parts so we don’t quite see, well, everything.
But in this 2013 issue, the photography appeared to gain some inspiration from mythology and art. Both Gary Player and Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton are pictured in an Atlas-like pose, depicting the mythological bearer of the heavens who is often shown hoisting the world on his shoulders. Player is shown with an oversized golf ball, while Stanton is shown in a more authentic presentation with a globe.
In another pose, Stanton looks reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, standing with his arms outstretched. Da Vinci’s drawing shows a sketch that depicts both the extended arms and legs in a range of motion.
It’s a collection of great photography. Well, most of it anyway. While all the athletes’ bodies can be respected and admired, sometimes the photos don’t do them justice. The best ones show the athletic form within the context it’s meant to excel, such as Gieger’s photos on the motorcycle, rock climbers Chris Sharma and Daila Ojeda in action, or boxer Marlen Esparza in the ring.
But others lose some of the power they could have, such as Washington Wizards guard John Wall’s pose in the bathtub, snowboarder Elena Hight’s shots with the grill or New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey setting out dirty room service dishes in a hotel hallway.
ESPN The Magazine can do—and has done—better in that regard, and it’s not the first time we’ve noticed.