For aficionados of the exposed human physique, last week provided two opportunities to celebrate.
On Tuesday, the venerable bikini celebrated its 70th birthday (who knew it was an actual boomer?), and a day later, ESPN The Magazine released its eighth annual “Body Issue” — in which 19 elite male and female athletes (a few with South Florida ties — but more on that in a moment) artistically posed while completely unclothed.
Of course, the bridge between the former and latter is the annual Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Issue” — which dates back to 1954 but has precious little to do with sports, and far more to do with showcasing female supermodels in the skimpiest two-pieces that the wardrobe designers could find.
But ESPN The Mag changed the, uh, game by celebrating the physiques of all kinds of athletes in the most creative ways. From sub-100-pound gymnasts to 300-plus-pound NFL linemen, they’ve all been strategically posed and photographed to reveal almost everything while never crossing that NSFW line. The irony is that ESPN The Mag’s fully nude photos have never created the sexually charged exploitation controversies traditionally associated with the SI Swimsuit Issue pics.
Rather, what the Body Issue does is take athletes out of their natural arenas and give them a platform to discuss a variety of personal topics.
Diet and training programs? Check.
Overcoming fear, pain and injuries? Yep.
Most and least favorite body part(s)? But of course.
And insecurities related to their bodies? You bet — and that’s where we often find the most startling revelations.
For instance, this year’s issue included a certain South Florida icon who sadly cut ties with our region on the very day the magazine published.
Yes, former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade displayed his sculpted build while revealing some of the bodily insecurities he had growing up.
“When I was young, my belly button was an outie, and I never even wanted to take my shirt off when we were at the swimming pool or outside during water fights. The only people who went into the pool with their shirts on were the kids who were overweight — and me.”
And that wasn’t the only body part he fretted about: “Even when I got to high school, I didn’t want to do swimming class because I didn’t want people to see my feet — as an athlete, my feet were a little rougher — and my belly button.” In fact, he was so adamant about not participating in the swimming class that he procured a doctor’s note excusing him.
Wade said that “I was just never comfortable until about four years ago, when I started feeling comfortable with my body overall.”
Indeed, the magazine has asked him to pose every year since 2009 — but this was the first time he said yes.
Another South Florida product — Santaluces High grad, former UM star and 13-year NFL veteran Vince Wilfork — maintains the mag’s tradition of celebrating athleticism in all its forms. Sure, while even the 6-foot, 2-inch, 325-pound Wilfork concedes, “Some people consider me to be obese. Some people consider me fat and sloppy,” the remarkably nimble defensive lineman said he thought “this shoot will give people a different look at what I am.”
Always naturally far bigger than all his peers (“I was 308 in high school”), Wilfork says that when his playing days are done, “I’ll get the weight off.”
Until then, though, he’s proud to be “bigger-boned,” adding, “If people can look at me, a guy that’s 325-plus, doing an issue like this, I’m pretty sure that they might have a little confidence.”