advertising · athletes · body image · Crossfit

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? On Monday morning fitspo…

Last Monday morning was cold and grey. It needed something. Yes, coffee. But more than that. Turns out it needed  topless men in kilts. Who knew?

A friend posted the photo collection on Facebook and tagged me. Yes, muscular chests and kilts, a winning combo that works for me. I smiled and reposted to spread the cheer.

Many friends liked it. But within a few minutes a straight male friend commented, “I was going to post some hot workout woman but thought “Nah; I’ll be called a sexist. Then I see this….”


Here’s his “oops!” offering:


What’s the difference? My sense is that images of incredibly fit beautiful people affect people differently and that gender plays a role. If fitspo babe makes me insecure and self conscious (which actually she doesn’t but she doesn’t inspire or attract me much either), maybe the hunky kilted dudes do that to my male friends? (Also, who boxes in denim cut off booty shorts?)

Do these images constitute sexual objectification? Is that always a bad thing?

I’ve wondered about this before. There is a great poster up at CrossFit of very beefy, burly guys sprinting shirtless. I like the poster. It makes me smile. But I’ve noticed there’s no comparable photo of CrossFit women. There too I think there is a real worry that a poster of fit, beautiful CrossFit women would have a negative effect on the women who workout there. See Tracy’s post The Inspirational Dis-Value of “Fitspo”.

What do you think? Is there a difference between pictures of buff half naked women versus buff half naked men? What is it?

I’m still mulling.

20 thoughts on “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? On Monday morning fitspo…

  1. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but I find that fitspo-type images of men are more meant to encourage men, and fitspo-type images of women are… also meant for men. Sure, women can look at them and think they have a body to aspire to, but their bodies are often presented in sexual (often sexually passive) ways, whereas fitspo men usually aren’t. The images of men are *for* men, as are the images of women.

    (Images of sexually-posed men are usually aimed at men who like men, too)

    I don’t know, that’s sort of how it *feels* to me, but I don’t think it’s the whole story (plus I am rubbish at explaining myself!)

    1. Lozette, I think you’ve hit it as far as I’m concerned. As a woman attracted to women, I rarely find fitspo women’s posters attractive, as they present the women for the male gaze. Even though this woman is posed in an aggressive kick stance, she’s kicking a wall (why?) and is barely not in a sexually passive position, with her legs spread and toward the viewer. I like her muscles, though. Maybe if she were posed like a muscle-guy doing something to show off her strength, I might find it more inspiring/attractive.

      1. “Maybe if she were posed like a muscle-guy doing something to show off her strength, I might find it more inspiring”

        Yes, this! Women are sometimes posed lifting Actual Weights, but often they’re just posing. Men tend to be pictured lifting something more often.

      2. Also, the lady in the image above is kicking a wall but look at what’s DEAD centre of the image – her crotch. Telling?

  2. You know, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll have to give it some thought.

    On first read, I think no, there’s not a difference. Objectification is objectification, regardless. The woman in the photo neither intimidates me nor inspires me, though I might feel differently if she weren’t wearing such an outrageous push up bra (where do you find such things, anyway?).

    In my Crossfit gym, there aren’t any posters, mirrors, or motivational sayings on the wall. I find it unusual, but I see it as a way to drive your focus to the workout. Crossfit is competitive, but the competition is always with yourself. Improve from last week, from yesterday, from what you think you’re capable of.

    That’s a lot of deep thinking I wasn’t prepared for this Monday morning. I like it. 🙂

  3. I’m thinking on it too. I wonder, like Erin E. above, where did she get that push up bra? Mine always seem to push back under my pits…but back to my double standard rationalization. Can we even call it a double standard? Does that not imply before the photo is posted that men and women are equal until we objectify them in a particular moment? I think the difference is that men have privilege and power over women before we even look at an image on a given day.
    The kilted bare-chested dudes are not fitness photos they are models on a photoshoot. The fitness themed photos I have seen do align how lozette describes, taken by men for men, regardless of the image.

    I think photos of all bodies are amazing. I love seeing lots of body shapes and sizes (the Canadian Bobsled team weigh in shot was fun and they are bulkier than the latest trends). The ones that trigger me are the before & after shots or the sad fat person. I’m fat but not always sad, and rarely sad because I’m fat, but I often see sad fat people in weight loss stories. Maybe the challenge is how bodies are categorized as desirable or not, capable or not, that is the problem ad that gender assumptions play along those lines.

    1. Natalie, you said what I was going to say. I understand what the critics are getting at, and I agree that objectification is problematic regardless of the gender of the person being objectified, but to say that objectification aimed at a man is the same as objectification aimed at a woman fails to take into consideration the society in which we live. Like, last night during the Super Bowl, audiences saw one commercial that focused on a man’s body, while the commercials that objectify women’s bodies are so numerous as to be practically wallpaper at this point. It’s not really accurate to flip the genders and call it equal.

      That said, I am also reluctant to get on board with the idea that every photo of an attractive person who is showing some skin automatically equals objectification. I feel like objectification runs the risk of becoming meaningless as a concept if we ascribe it to every photo of a half-naked man or woman that comes across our field of view.

  4. Let’s start with the boobs on the second one. They seem fake. I have ample assets, but mine don’t perfectly pancake under a sports bra. The first one didn’t have a caption, although I would caption it as ‘OMG Hugh Jackman!” No motivational mumbo jumbo, just 100% talent in a kilt. (Is that really Jackman?) Now if we want some more Australian inspiration, I vote for Chris Hemsworth…as Thor. Trust me audible gasps occurred in the movie theatre during Thor: The Dark World.

    The second usually has those fitspo sayings I learned to ignore. I swear if I see another 0% body fat woman with a boob job, with some cringe inducing saying, I will scream. It’s not body shaming more like getting-sick-of-this sentiment.

    Regarding the Canadian a Canadian I can only say…GO CANADA!

  5. I think there’s a big difference too, although I really don’t know why and have to think about it. There has to be something to the very generalized truth that men are not victims of sexual abuse and objectification in the same way generally and to the same degree or extent as women. But that’s all I can think of right now. Just wanted to clarify one thing though. Many comments above provide that the pictures of bare chested posing (or running) men are images just as much for the consumption of men as of women. Um, sorry, but: “No, they’re not.”

  6. I think it is a false choice between men and women for these images. BOTH kinds of bodies are over-represented in the visual field. The problem is not gender, its bodily normativity towards tight, toned, lean, etc. etc.

  7. Took a while for my brain to start working again after Jackman in a kilt. Good heavens! Anyway, when we look at images of people with unclothed areas, we unconsciously underestimate their competence and overestimate their emotionality. Or so says research in social psychology. These biases about competence and emotionality also interact with biases about ability, age, gender, class, sexual orientation and race. This means that the biases activated about Jackman will therefore differ from those activated by the woman…as noted by most of you above! Objectification is pretty complex.

  8. Could we not just be straightforward consequentialists and say that even if the two acts are formally the same — sexual objectification of members of a particular gender — they don’t produce the same result. Objectification of women leads to a culture of discrimination and violence, eating disorders among women, etc. Objectification of men gives unfit men the sads. Therefore we evaluate them differently.

  9. As many of the comments have said or intimated, the social context matters. And the “rebuttal” picture is quite different–legs spread wide open, and is the use of “push harder” just a coincidence or subtle sexual innuendo? Women are sexually objectified as a matter of course; men not nearly as much. Women struggle to command other kinds of respect. Men, not so much. So it’s not just the consequences of the objectification that are worse for women, it’s the entire context leading up to the objectification of women. That said, the human body is a beautiful thing, so that last thing we want to do is start claiming that all depictions of it are pernicious objectification.

    1. What you say just has to be true. There is something to the “rebuttal picture” that says:” Work hard, omg push hard, to be more f*^k$ble by men!” Hugh might be posing for the consumption of women, but he is no way suggesting that it may be okay to lift his kilt or obtain access to him in any way.

  10. Yes.

    What do you want? Why is there a difference between being inspired and made to feel inadequate? They’re the same thing aren’t they? Here’s someone you’re nothing like. Feel inadequate? Good! Now do something about it!

    Same! Same thing.

    Personally, I’ve never felt particularly comfortable with pictures of beefcakes. I almost felt a bit betrayed by it, having taken great care throughout my over-sensitive teens to not expose women to pictorial representations of my tastes in women out of consideration for their feelings to find no one had consideration of mine. But then that’s probably quite a feminine response I’m having there. Men are supposed to dispute their feelings of inadequacy like a man and treat it as a challenge, whereas a woman is permitted to shrink from the pain and treat it as a defeat. After all, we are suppose to see women as the fragile ones; a self-fulfilling prophecy, since we become what is expected of us.

    Nevertheless, no amount of exercise would have turned me into a beefcake; I was hyperthyroidal and had zero muscle mass to even build on. I had to choose surpetition* rather than competition; that is find a workaround – another dimension of attractiveness in which I could surpass the ideals of male beauty, or male success for that matter, and aim for the sapiosexual market. That’s another response to challenge. Kirk’s Kobyashi Maru solution: change the rules to a game you can win at. Every problem has a solution, you just need to think around it.

    *Surpetition – a coinage of De Bono’s – he was talking about businesses and saying that rather than competing with other companies by trying to be better at the same thing, one should instead try to diversify in order to be a value monopoly. But you can see how it readily applies to attractiveness.

Comments are closed.