What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?

Nate Jones of Metro.us noticed a trend while browsing Getty Images for beach volleyball photos. That trend was largely centred on women’s asses.

With the heads cropped out of every photo, it’s no wonder people consider women’s beach volleyball at the Olympics to be nothing short of objectification. There’s nothing wrong with playing beach volleyball, there’s nothing wrong with wearing bikinis while doing it. Hell, these women often like “looking sexy”. The problem comes from the fact that if you’re looking at a photo of beach volleyball, you’ll almost never even have the opportunity to look at the woman’s face. It’s all very “male gaze”.

So Nate recropped many Olympic photos to make the focal point of the photos different. It’s an interesting exercise in objectification, considering you’ll almost never see photos like these otherwise.

But what gets me is the comments. Oh, the comments.

Bill Pickle

as guest
4:21 PM
Aug 01, 2012
Beach volleyball players are free to dress in less revealing clothing, and free to turn down the additionally lucrative revenue and increased popularity that comes with the skimpy clothes. You think the problem is that the general male audience objectifies these athletes, not so, the problem is that the general female audience don’t objectify the men enough. You are free to look upon male athletes as you will, if a contingent of like-minded people grows large enough to impact revenue then male sporting garments will be adjusted to reflect your desires. You choose for yourself, let others do the same.

Except, only at the London Games did those rules get relaxed. The bikini was the official sport uniform up until this year.

The answer to all this objectification of women is for women to objectify men more, and make it some kind of free market argument instead? When men have most of the power and a hell of a lot of the money? Sure. That’ll work to balance us all out. The Invisible Hand Deity is every bit as misogynistic as the people who invented it and worship it. Prove me wrong.


as guest
11:33 PM
Aug 01, 2012
Why no women’s basketball in your examples? Or any other women’s sport? Why the preponderance of Caucasian athletes? Have you actually watched the Olympics? If you’re going to make a point, make it better than this.

Because this is a gender reversal. It took photos that Nate had access to, and cropped them to show the same sort of focal point as the women’s beach volleyball. It would not make the point to show MORE women, in a sport that doesn’t objectify them because they’re relatively well-covered, when there are other sports with men who aren’t well-covered but aren’t depicted the same way.


as guest
12:25 AM
Aug 02, 2012
Complete agree with Bill Pickle. If he wasn’t saying the truth then why are all of these pictures of male athletes?

Point-missery. You has it.

What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?

23 thoughts on “What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?

  1. 1

    I love these types of role reversals. It is such a good way to make the double standards in representations of women and men painfully obvious (not that there still aren’t idiots who completely miss the point anyways). This reminds me of the images of male comic book characters being manipulated into the “tits and ass” pose that female characters are drawn in.

  2. 4

    I saw that one and was torn between grinning at someone getting it and cringing at how bad by most standards of photography the beach volleyball photos are.

    Regarding clothes stuff (I know beach volleyball regulations changed only for the London Olympics, but I figured I’d point the degree of regulation out), you’d be surprised how much what you wear in high-level competition is regulated. I competed at national level as a teen in a sport, and in my event, everything from your hair to your shoes was regulated. Even in qualifiers, sleeve length, cut and material of shirts were regulated; type, cut, and fabric of pants were regulated (oh, and pants were mandatory: no skirts or shorts. Even if it’s fourty degrees Celcius with humidex.); shoes were regulated by material, type, thickness and size of soles, laces (which were mandatory) were regulated by type (flat only – no curly elastics or round laces), length, and material; accessories were regulated down to what type you could wear and what they could be made of (earrings could be worn but couldn’t touch the neck or shoulders, fabric bracelets could be worn if they were loose from the wrist, but no wrist-watches or other firmly-attatched wrist acessory. Necklaces were allowed if they weren’t choker-style, facial piercings and ornamentations were disallowed, if hair was styled, only certain types of hair accessories and products were allowed); equipment was regulated; and so on and so forth. For any article of clothing, any logos and designs were regulated, and if your article of clothing doesn’t comply, break out the duct tape and cover whatever breaks the rules. Even what you could eat and drink where, who you could talk to when and for how long, and how often you could go to the bathroom at an event was regulated. If you needed to take a medication, an official had to supervise you doing so. My sport was one of the less-regulated sports (mainly because it was a bit of a niche event and so not a moneymaker), but our regulation booklet for clothing and equipment alone was a full twenty pages long. Not including penalties and procedures in case of violation.

    So, yeah. At high-level competition, I’m pretty sure they’d regulate how you sat down to use the bathroom if they thought they could get away with it (and, actually, they do if you’re being drug tested!). If you think someone can just wear something else if they have a problem, you’re almost certainly mistaken.

  3. 6

    Katy Waldman at Slate had an article the other day about the US women’s team decision to continue playing in bikinis despite having the option to wear something more substantial. The reasons make sense to me as a man, but I can also understand why they might feel pressured to make a certain choice, regardless of the fact that they technically have a free choice.


  4. 7

    I was curious if this trend is really as blatant as you and Nate Jones suggest. So, I poked around Getty Images. If I search for “olympic beach volleyball” and look through the first 600 results (of 6837), I find 14 images in which a volleyball player’s body is prominently featured in the photo but his or her head is not visible. Of those, 12 are women and 2 are men; 6 of the 12 pictures of women show their asses. So, the headless shots of women volleyballers’ asses make up 1% of the results. There are another five headless shots of female cheerleaders’ bodies.

    So, yeah, this kind of photography happens. Is it the norm in beach volleyball photography on Getty Images, as Nate Jones strongly implies? Nope. Is it true that “if you’re looking at a photo of beach volleyball, you’ll almost never even have the opportunity to look at the woman’s face”, as you state? No, not even close.

    That said, I agree that women’s beach volleyball occupies an uncomfortable zone somewhere between watching great athletics and presenting scantily clad women for the titillation of male viewers. However, be accurate. Don’t just make shit up.

  5. 9

    I refuse to watch women’s beach volleyball because (except for the Olympics, apparently) they are required to play almost naked, while the men are not. And I suspect that no one was willing to pay for their women’s teams to have a separate team uniform for the Olympics designed, when they could wear it nowhere else. So it’s not a choice that they continued to wear their usual scrap-of-cloth uniforms in London. It’s an execrable double standard and the photography just confirms it.

    By the way, if you want to identify graduates of the U.S. school of cinematography, look for films where images are centered on women’s breasts if possible. Then check the credits.

  6. 10

    Wow, those beach volleyball photos are just straight-up terrible sports photos, though perhaps not terrible erotica/porn photos. One can’t see any action or anything related to the actual sport. They’re also part of a sexist system of differential, reductionist, objectifying visual representations of women, but frankly, I’d fire the photographers/photo editor (whoever is responsible) for being straight-up bad at their jobs, unless they were explicitly instructed to be shooting erotic images and not sports images.

  7. 11

    I gotta say, those ride-up-your-crack bikini bottoms look damn uncomfortable. I’m not sure you’re be getting peak athletic performance out of your athletes when they spend half their game time yanking on their drawers.

  8. 13

    Unfortunately Hypatiasdaughter, it’s all about the “peek” performance and not the comfort of the athletes.

    From Rory’s article above, the athletes quoted in that story insist that bikinis are indeed more comfortable:

    If you wear baggier clothing, Kessy explains, “you get sand everywhere.”

    I’m afraid I’m agnostic on the issue.

  9. 14

    aspidoscelis: sure, maybe it’s an exaggeration specifically for Getty Images. However, the trend is definitely there. Search for “women’s beach volleyball” on Google Images, and count how many pictures involve a woman’s back / backside, and how many actually show someone’s face. Do the same with “men’s beach volleyball”. Count how many women’s bikini shots showing only their asses show up in the latter, as a bonus game.

  10. 15

    However, the trend is definitely there. Search for “women’s beach volleyball” on Google Images, and count how many pictures involve a woman’s back / backside

    There’s at least a trend of selecting/ranking these images in the search results.

    Arbitrary test. This photo, captioned as players hugging (framed from the belly-button down!?), was deemed by google to be representative of its page. Following the link, it was a freakish outlier in a gallery of well-composed action shots.
    I haven’t followed the sport to comment on whether the problem trend’s primarily with with the pool of images produced by photographers/outlets or the internet’s weighting of them. A few other google results were pages specifically about those pics that featured players’ butts.
    Alternatively, there’s the complaint that these images exist at all: professional photographers should be ashamed to attach their names to such shoddy work.

  11. 16

    aspidoscelis @8

    I searched google images and found a number (about 15 in the first 50) of photos of women beach volleyball players that featured their torsos and/or butts exclusively. I found no such pictures when I googled men beach volleyboll players – well, except for the picture of women on that page.

    Interestingly though, I then googled images of sprinters. Guess what? No body shots for men or women, except for one photo of feet in the starting blocks. In some cases, the women sprinters were wearing small, tight running outfits but there were no pics of their asses.

    So, what does that tell us about women’s beach volleyball versus other sports?

  12. 17

    Someone did a similar spoof awhile back of the Avengers movie poster with all the male characters turned around showing off their butts the way Scarlett Johanson does in the actual poster. A nice lighthearted way of making a very valid point.

  13. 18

    BTW, obviously a Google Image search isn’t a scientific sampling of sports photojournalism. I haven’t followed the Olympics closely, but is this trend reflected in the actual media coverage? Or is it just a matter of shots of attractive women’s bottoms are more likely to be ranked high by users? The latter is still a worrisome trend, but can’t fairly be blamed on photojournalists.

  14. 19

    can’t fairly be blamed on photojournalists.

    We’re talking systemic discrimination and implicit bias here. “Whose fault is it” is pretty much the least interesting and most pointless question you can ask.

    Blame the patriarchy.

    Also, men’s beach volleyball athletes don’t wear speedos. If the claim about the sand were true, you’d expect them to.

  15. 20

    @’Tis Himself

    A lot of the clothing regulations in my sport were written by current/former competitors, and they were so specific mainly because if they weren’t specific, people would get cute and do stuff like wear skintight pants made of a very stiffly starched fabric to get around not being allowed to brace their legs with anything. It was more about levelling the playing field and making sure that what got onto the medal podium was decided mostly by who had the better aim, not who had the most tricked-out accessories. Same reason those compression suits were banned in swimming at the Olympics: If there’s a fancy piece of equipment that improves scores by up to 10%, and only a very small minority of athletes will be able to afford it, how is it fair? Since the difference between first and sixth is usually about 1-3% of your overall score in my sport in the age divisions I competed in (and it’s even tighter in the adults – I’ve seen the difference between first and and twelfth come down to a single point – about 0.2% of the overall score), you all of the sudden can have someone who would be in the podium by merit may be pushed out of the running entirely because they can’t afford to shell out $3500 on a fancy pair of pants.

    The way the rules are currently set up, someone with all of the latest bells and whistles is at an advantage to someone with just the bare minimum, but it’s not an insurmountable one. I had one accessory above the bare minimum for my competitions, and I still came out with national and international-level medals in my age division most of the time. I didn’t come close to the adults not because I didn’t have the gear, but because they were just that much better. As much better as I was compared to most of the youth division, their average competitors were better than me.

  16. sdb

    I think it’s safe to presume the writer of this article can’t pull of wearing a bikini and is evidently envious of the athletes.

  17. NP

    To sdb who wrote:
    sdb says:
    August 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm ADT
    “I think it’s safe to presume the writer of this article can’t pull of wearing a bikini and is evidently envious of the athletes.”

    What a pitiful attitude you have (and misspelled “off”). I’ve seen many people (usually men) make the same exact comment as you, totally missing the point. And the point has to do with sexism. I rest my case.

  18. 23

    I think it’s safe to presume the writer of this article can’t pull of wearing a bikini and is evidently envious of the athletes.

    I think it’s safe to presume that the writer of this quoted comment doesn’t know what blog he’s on, didn’t read the piece and doesn’t have the slightest clue what he’s talking about. But, thank god the sexist ass came here to tell us his completely useless opinion!

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