A Catholic youth organization in Poland has ended its partnership with Polish tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth-ranked player in the world, after she posed naked for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. The issue, released last week, features Radwanska sitting naked in a lawn chair next to a swimming pool full of tennis balls.
“It’s a shame that someone who has declared their love for Jesus is now promoting the mentality of men looking at a woman as a thing rather than a child of God worthy of respect and love,” a Polish priest told The Telegraph. ”If she meets a man who she can truly love and establish a happy family and raise Catholic children, then she would probably have to hide these pictures from relatives.”
The Catholic organization is of course free to do what it pleases regarding its partnership with Radwanska, but it, and the priest quoted above, missed the point of the issue. The logic they’ve applied to Radwanska’s picture, meanwhile, is misguided, hypocritical, and maybe even sexist.
The Body Issue isn’t a tasteless display of naked athletes. It isn’t Playboy or Hustler. It shows off and celebrates the bodies those athletes work hard to sculpt and take care of, and we ought to celebrate them. The pictures aren’t selling Radwanska as a sex symbol but as an athlete who pushes to stay in the top shape it takes to play professional tennis. Nudity itself isn’t necessarily sexual, and Radwanska could have worn clothes and still posed in far more suggestive positions.
The church has opposed nudity on its most famous artwork in the past. After Michelangelo’s death, it ordered that loin cloths be painted over the genitals of nude figures in paintings like the “Creation of Adam,” which was commissioned by the Vatican and originally showed Adam fully naked. But what, really, is the difference between a loin cloth and Radwanska’s pictures, in which her clothes are absent but her breasts and genitals are not exposed? And what makes it more outrageous than any of the other religious artwork that portrays naked bodies?
On a similar note, I’m unsure if the priest or the organization would have reacted the same way had a Catholic man posed similarly, but I’m quite sure that jeopardizing his ability to have a happy family and good Catholic children wouldn’t have been used as the justification for outrage. That Radwanska isn’t just naked but is a naked woman seems to make the picture that much more impure to those who have a problem with it.
That’s not to excuse ESPN The Magazine fully, because Radwanska’s photo could have been done better, in a less playful fashion that celebrated and showcased her physical capacities the way photos of other athletes did. Still, we ought to be able to discuss, admire, and appreciate the human body for what it is, particularly those of athletes who work so hard to create the bodies they have. At the very least, we can do that without going into a tizzy every time we see a little skin or accusing someone of being irreparably impure every time they show a little.