Lori Anderson: Sporting feast for the eyes
OUR Olympic athletes are not shy in flaunting their beautiful bodies – and we should not hold back in marvelling at them, writes Lori Anderson
HE STANDS before us, arms outstretched and palms open like Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of Vitruvian man, the 15th-century template of physical perfection. While da Vinci had rendered his figure au natural, this latter-day model has his modesty cloaked in a tight pair of cycling shorts, and although separated by 500 years both are clearly beautiful works of art.
The London Olympics are offering us all an opportunity to study the human form in an intimate manner usually reserved for the life studies class at the Glasgow School of Art. If it is not Sir Chris Hoy revealing thighs that would give the Colossus of Rhodes a run, or cycle sprint, for his money, then it is Jenna Randall, the synchronised swimmer, her thighs glistening in a sheen of baby oil and her back arched as if in ecstasy, or Victoria Pendleton, naked but for a pair of training shoes and hunched over a racing bike.
By now we know every chiselled crease in the six-packs belonging to Tom Daley, the teenage diver, and Jessica Ennis, the heptathlete who have both recently been voted Team GB’s sexiest athletes. Ennis already has a host of YouTube videos dedicated to her pert posterior, while Daley, 18, has had a legion of married women harbouring guilty thoughts and double checking the age of consent.
Streaking ahead is Louise Hazel, also a heptathlete, who has already taken the gold for glamorous self-promotion (all in a good cause, of course) by posing completely nude but for a carefully crossed leg and a few strategically placed coffee beans to promote Fairtrade products. While swooping in, as if from the skies, is Rebecca Adlington, who, by the careful addition of a red cape over her blue swimming costume, has been transformed into Supergirl.
Should we wrinkle our noses with disdain and dismiss such posturing as pornographic? No. Of course not. We should widen our eyes in awe and focus on every flexed bicep, curved tricep and pert gluteus maximus and as we ogle, remember the effort involved in carving out such paradigms of flesh and bone.
For these athletes deserve to be elevated on a pedestal and in doing so topple those that currently occupy the plinths. The toned form of the cyclist Victoria Pendleton is a more suitable role model than an over-inflated Jordan. Isn’t it preferable to praise and gaze upon a body achieved through sweat and tears rather than through the application of the surgeon’s scalpel?
Critics say that 2012 will be the most body-conscious Olympics ever, with a degree of lascivious fascination directed towards the athletes’ figures that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago. They are right. The Edwardians may have fainted with shock at even a glimpse of a well-turned ankle, never mind the bounteous celebration of boobs and butts to be found in beach volleyball where regulations state that bikini bottoms be as short as possible. Yet if you were to go back to sixth-century BC, the Ancient Greeks would have adored such displays, at least, of the male form.
For the bodies of these athletes are an antidote to the poison of our “quick fix culture”. The paparazzi and grotesque cockatoo Darren Lyons may have tried to sell his ab implants on last year’s Celebrity Big Brother, but few were convinced that they were a suitable substitute for the hard earned real thing. What is so beautiful about the bodies of these athletes is the marriage between form and function.
Sir Chris Hoy’s glabrous body isn’t a desired end in itself, as is the case with professional bodybuilders who are reduced to forgetful, half-crazed hair triggers by a diet devoid of all carbohydrates, it is a by-product of the need for speed. His massive thighs are the pistons that will hopefully power him to another collection of Olympic gold medals.
Sir Chris, Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis and their fellow team-mates fulfil three functions with their toned figures. First there is the visual pleasure they can provide as objects of beauty and ideal form. Aristotle was once asked why people desire physical beauty and he replied: “No-one that is not blind could ask that question.” The answer is clearly there for all to see.
Secondly, they act as an inspiration and an example of what can be achieved by hard work and discipline. Wouldn’t most of us wish for a body like theirs?
Let’s be honest: the fact remains that we have never been in greater need of inspirational figures who can prompt us up off the sofa. In the 1970s, the obesity rate in Britain was negligible; now we are being swept away in a wobbly tsunami of flab.
Today, 27 per cent of Scots are clinically obese, up from 17 per cent in 1994, and by 2030 about 40 per cent of the population will be waddling into this category. The cost to us, as a society, in terms of paying for obesity related illness is billions and, like their waistbands, will only balloon.
The Greeks understood that the condition of the citizen’s body was of concern to the state. Socrates was regularly groping the wide of girth, as Xenophon reported: “Seeing that Epigenes, one of his companions, was in poor physical condition for a young man, he said, ‘you’ve got the body of someone who just isn’t engaged in public matters’.” When the hapless Epigenes retorted that he was a private citizen not a public one, Socrates fired back: “You should care for your body no less than an Olympic athlete.”
Lucian, the Greek rhetorician, could be describing a walk down Sauchiehall Street when he wrote about the effects of lack of exercise upon the male body: “It’ll have either a white and lazy flabbiness, or a pale scrawniness, like a woman’s body, bleached from the shade, quivering, and dripping with sweat and panting.”
The third and final reason is that these strengthened sinews and taut muscles are the tools they will use to, hopefully, fulfil a long cherished dream and capture gold and a place in that most crucial of muscles, our hearts.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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