Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thank you Bryce Harper for exposing our male body image issues

Each year ESPN Magazine releases their "Body" issue.  This year there was a lot of talk about Amanda Bingson being one of the athletes featured on one of the covers.  She's an Olympic hammer thrower. Her image was a nice example of body positive messaging.  She is a larger woman who is an accomplished Olympic athlete and shows that athletes can come in all shapes and sizes.

Another athlete that was featured in the magazine was Bryce Harper who plays baseball for the Washington Nationals.  In the picture, Harper looks like the ultimate male athlete.  He is chiseled, ripped and the image of what the ideal body should look like.

But how did Harper do get that body?  Was it just his natural, everyday body or, like many others, did he do some extreme things to make sure he looked "his best?" It turns out, extreme is exactly what he did. From this Washington Post article, we see exactly what he did to make his body look this way for the photoshoot:
[It] consisted of three workouts and six meals a day until it consisted of none, that final week when Bryce Harper consumed only juice. Seven different raw juices. Over the final two weeks, before he exposed each of his muscles to ESPN’s photographers, he put salt in his drinking water so he could hydrate himself without gaining weight. On the final day, before he stripped naked and recorded the results for the world, he rose for one final workout, but when he went to refresh himself, he spit the water out. When he arrived at the field at the University of Nevada Las Vegas for the shoot, his system was completely depleted. 
He shoved raw, white potatoes down his throat because he knew the glucose and glycine they contained would run straight to his muscles — which yearned for something, any kind of nourishment they could find. 
“It makes you pop,” Harper said. “It makes you stand out.”
Stand out he does.  I'll admit he looks amazing, but should we reward Harper for looking good without examining the extreme lengths it took to look this way?  Because Harper is a man, do we judge his actions differently than if he was a woman?  If a woman did something extreme like this, would we think she's healthy or would we think it's some sort of eating disorder?

When I read what Harper did, I think it highlights just how much even the most famous men struggle with body image issues.  Heaven forbid we get in front of a camera without looking our best. For women, we are more aware of the signs and dangers.  We notice if their unhealthy body image causes them to lose too much weight, but for men it might be harder to spot.  The reason?  Because men obsess about muscles.  If we build muscle, we're healthy.  So bigger muscles equal doing more healthy things.  In reality,  we may be doing some very unhealthy things to get that body.

Starving yourself for days, avoiding water, obsessively working out, and then binging to make you "pop" and "stand out" is not healthy behavior and not does it reflect a healthy body image.

On one hand we applaud Bingson for baring all, and we do the same for Harper.  But I see it a little differently.  I love the idea of ESPN's Body issue.  Let's celebrate the amazing bodies all athletes have and the unbelievable things they can do.  Maybe next year we can celebrate the body naturally, without alterations, either by photoshop or by allowing athletes to starve themselves to "stand out." Without any of the shenanigans he went through before the shoot, Harper and every athlete is a "stand out." They are the best of the best and their bodies should be celebrated no matter what they look like.


  1. Agree completely. Isn't this completely nuts?! Essentially starving himself in a way that wouldn't allow him to actually perform athletically, to make himself *look* like he can perform athletically in a picture. Seriously: mind blown. It's so sad that the pursuit of bodily perfection isn't getting better for women and instead is getting passed onto men. Body image issues make for unhappy people and a miserably society.

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