Screen shot from Outside magazine's Instagram account

Outside and Unclothed

The image at the top of the page is a screen capture from a post made on Outside magazine’s Instagram account this week. The woman in the photo is climber Sara Carlson, shot by photographer James White for a ”Women of Rock” feature in their April 2005 issue; a different photo of an unclothed Carlson was used on the cover.

On it’s own, it’s a lovely photo. There’s nothing inherently sexual about the image itself – the human form is a beautiful thing and the pose isn’t provocative. However, when you place this image in the context of how women athletes are depicted in publications like Outside – often posed in a bikini, a sports bra and short-shorts, or in the nude (implied or actual) – it becomes yet another reminder that women continue to be treated unequally in sports and outdoors media coverage. Think I’m making this up or being oversensitive? Let’s take a quick stroll through Outside‘s last eight covers featuring women:

Badass photo of Julia Mancuso aside, if you think I singled out bikini babe shots to bolster my case, I invite you to scan the full gamut of covers from 2001 to the present as featured on this handy Pinterest page. Tell me, what do you notice? There’s certainly a healthy smattering of sculpted male torsos, a wealth of landscapes, a few groups, and the occasional animal shot, but overall, the bulk what you’re seeing is a bunch of dudes…in clothes.

Scanning their collection of cover photos, I did some math – of the issues featured on that page, women have been the sole focus 13 times; men, 102. When women are featured, 77% of the time its in bikini shots (or as an implied nude), twice it’s been in otherwise revealing clothing, and only once has it been fully clothed (see: Julia Mancuso). On the other hand, men are fully clothed 64% of the time they’re featured on the cover, with naked torsos coming in at 29%, and full-page face shots picking up the remainder of the appearances. These numbers seem out of balance to you?

Maybe it sounds like I’m picking on Outside, but maybe that’s because I expect more out of a magazine that showcases some of the best writers dipping their quills today – I’m a subscriber for a reason. But maybe I expect too much? Maybe I should just sit down, shut up, and enjoy the articles? Perhaps Outside is actually just a Men’s Interest magazine masquerading as an Outdoor Adventure publication? Could be. Let’s have a look at their editorial mission (random capitalizations theirs):

“The mission of Outside Magazine is to INSPIRE participation in the WORLD OUTSIDE through award-winning coverage of the sports, people, places, adventures, discoveries, environmental issues, health and fitness, gear and apparel, trends, and events that define the ACTIVE LIFESTYLE.”

So, yeah – I guess I’m missing the part where they talk about gathering the boys at the brodeo for an occasional T&A fest? According to their media kit, Outside‘s readership skews 72% male, 28% female - nothing wrong with that; I’m just wondering why they insist on sometimes marginalizing more than a quarter of us (and perhaps turning off potential subscribers) with their unbalanced portrayal of the sexes?

I think the human form is a beautiful thing. I have a gorgeous nude hanging above my bed. I highly enjoy ESPN’s Body Issue. But I don’t subscribe to this INSPIRATIONAL magazine (or their Instagram feed) to see nude photos, no matter how tasteful or artistic…I subscribe because I love the WORLD OUTSIDE and because the sports and places and experiences they write about fit my ACTIVE LIFESTYLE (even if for some reason, they don’t think it’s worth it to feature gear or clothing relevant to 28% of their readership – but we’ll save that rant for another day). As a female athlete, it bums me out that when I look to outlets like Outside for inspiration – to see photos of women that I look up to – what I get is Maxim lite.

It makes sense that the magazine leans towards featuring more men than women on its cover and in its pages (remember that 72% readership?) – what doesn’t make sense is that when women are featured, it’s in a two-piece or wielding a chainsaw between their legs (see ridiculous cover shot of Gabrielle Reece, above). However, I might have a solution for this whole “objectification of women athletes” thing: maybe we should all agree that men should also be featured mostly in the nude or in swimsuits on the covers and inside pages of magazines like Outside, and we can all just go home and call a truce?

On second thought, that’ll never happen.