It's a picture we've all seen (or taken) many times: Shirt raised, shorts pushed down, bathroom sink in foreground, shower curtain and towel bar in background, arm outstretched, camera phone in hand. Snap. Save. Post. It's the signature "Guys with iPhones" pose. But this is no faceless hottie looking for a hook-up. This is an aspiring Olympian. Is there anything wrong with that?
The (hot, gorgeous) picture in question is of Danell Leyva, the American gymnast and seeming epicenter of gay Olympic fascination (the spicier alternative to the unofficial close second, Ryan Lochte). It's self-published, not leaked, no Weiner scandal attached (pun intended). It doesn't seem to be raising any eyebrows, though it's certainly raising something somewhere.
This is my first "Social Media Olympics," and my news feed has been flooded with pictures of Danell, Ryan, giant-thighed cyclists and sleek divers, Abercrombie-esque Nordics and various other flavor of international beauties. The most popular pictures seem to be those where, well, you can tell both the temperature of the room/pool and the religious leanings of the athlete through lycra singlet or wet Speedo, to put it delicately.
But it's not just young men snapping their own photos, or voyeurs snapping sneaky pics. There are tasteful nudes showing up on major media outlets, Bruce Weber's iconic portfolios of athletes for Vanity Fair, the Sports Illustrated's "Body" issue (fast becoming the gay "Swimsuit" counterpart) to put my willing finger on a few. There's even a series of nudes of gymnasts in motion that puts the images of Bruce of Los Angeles and 50's Athletic Model Guild (now, tame, tame pictures that, then, could have put the holder in jail or out of a job for ownership) to shame. The men, without a stitch, teeter on pommel horses and the edge of soft porn. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Or is there?
We've come a long way since the very first Olympic athlete portfolio by Mr. Weber, when his portraits caused great uproar, and were called shameful, homoerotic and exploitative. These newer shots flooding the internet and the day and night dreams of men of many ages, are met with no such objection. Progress! Progress?
Then there was the Grndr crash. It was claimed that the "dating" site (snicker) crashed under the weight of incoming Olympians (What a way to go!) arriving in London. I suspect it was more from tourists taking advantage of the freeing nature of travel and local Londoners on the hunt for fresh bangers than gold medal hopefuls looking to get their Games on, but the idea that the glistening, ripe and rippling Olympians were "50 feet away" is a titillating thought (and BRILLIANT marketing ploy from the Grindr creators . . . not to imply it was PLANNED, godforbid).
There is no doubt a link between beauty and physicality. And certainly, this is not the first or only time athletes, pro or amateur, have capitalized on their physiques or sex appeal. If I had a body like (insert any male and some of the female athletes' names here), I wouldn't own clothes. "Swimmer's build" has long been a standard in the gay personal ad. In the very first Olympics, there was no lycra, at all (Go Greece! I'm behind you all the way!!). I own a photo of British diver Anthony Ally (a portrait though, not a nude, but super sexy nonetheless), part of Anderson & Low's glorious "Athletes" series. I've often kidded and innuendo'd about divers, swimmers (damn the long swimsuit!), power lifters, luge drivers, water polo players . . . wait, what were we talking about?
In some ways, it's kinda cool: my gay friends posting Bronze-medal beefcake in their public pages instead of sneaking them around in brown paper wrappers or behind password encrypted pay-to-play websites. That's actually an odd marker of progress, of equality. Um, yay.
I'm no prude. Belieeeeeeeeeeeeve me. But something about the reduction of young athletic superheroes to the outright object of sexual obsession is creepy, demeaning or maybe just a tiny bit disappointing to me - less when done by Weber, more when self-shot on iPhone.
I know, I know, I'm probably in the minority of gay men wondering whether this is a good thing or not, or even wondering at all.
I've got mixed opinions, as you might have guessed. Part of me doesn't like it. Other, um, parts of me do. So I'm asking you: is there anything wrong with sexualizing our Olympians?
If you need me, I'll be setting my DVR for Wrestling. You know, for the articles.