US silver medal Olympian Gretchen Bleiler on the cover of the ESPN Magazine

We’re not supposed to talk about wanting to be pretty. We’re supposed to be rock solid secure in our appearances even while the world suggests we look a little different, be a little different, smell a little different. Maybe as a result, I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t occasionally want to change how her body looks.

We want a bigger chest, or a smaller chest. More curves. A tighter butt. A little tummy, no tummy at all. Six pack abs. We want to be leaner in one place, softer in another. We want shoulders that are narrower than our boyfriends, and legs that go on for miles. We want to be feminine and womanly. To be considered beautiful and sexy.  Sometimes, also, we want to be strong.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about women athletes receiving recognition for their role as sex symbols rather than for their impact in sport. We talked about marketing and editorial campaigns that pose female skiers naked holding their skis rather than clothed and skiing, and what the take away message of those sort of images is for other women, for young girls, and for men.

She brought up the Women of Skiing shots put together by Skiing Magazine. I brought up the ESPN body issue, and the image above of Gretchen Bleiler. Gretchen is a pro shred, a silver medalist Olympian, and one of the hardest working people in the industry. The shoots have a radically different feel to them, and portray the athletes in very different manners. It makes me wonder about the take home message the photographers and publications were trying to create, and also about how we, as women, want to be perceived by others

Are strong and sexy mutually exclusive?