Former Brewers slugger Prince Fielder adorns the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body” Issue, which comes around on July 11. You may have already heard that, surprise! He’s partially nude. Well, pretty much totally nude except for certain private parts.
You know what? Prince is cool with his body, and he’s not afraid to show it. More power to him.
When I first saw the images of Fielder in a faux-swing pose and resting a bat on his shoulder, my immediate reaction was: No, thanks!! Change the channel! Frankly, I have to agree more or less with Elaine in that Seinfeld episode “The Apology,” in which she makes clear to Jerry that walking around naked is not a good look for a man. “The female body is a work of art. The male body is utilitarian; it’s for gettin’ around. It’s like a jeep,” she advises Jerry and George.
But maybe American society has put a stigma on the male body, conditioning us to think of male nakedness as “lumpy” and “simian” like Elaine did. Perhaps Fielder’s bold turn as a male model will help shatter some of our taboos about naked men as explicit, obscene or debased. Certainly I wouldn’t want naked men roaming the streets, but in certain contexts male nakedness shouldn’t be shunned while female nakedness is celebrated as inherently artistic and divine.
In addition Fielder’s willingness to show himself to the public helps break down stereotypes of what an athlete is “supposed” to look like. As he says in an interview, “You don’t have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete.” By extension, men don’t have to look like your typical athletes to be attractive or accepted by society.
Despite all of the catcalls and criticism about his body over the years (which, let’s face it, have often been cruel in tone) Fielder had never gone on the DL until 2014. Unfortunately he’s slated to miss most of the season this year with neck surgery, but his iron-man status until this year proves that there’s no absolute prototype for the body of an athlete. It takes all kinds, from the David Ecksteins and Scooter Gennetts of the world to the Fielders and Bartolo Colons.
As much as people may be put off by the sheer nakedness in the “Body” issue, it’s pretty remarkable that ESPN would be willing to do something so daring. Even in 2014, many people disagree with Fielder. They think that if a person is big, he or she can’t be an athlete, or at least have their doubts.
I say kudos to Fielder for opening up to the world and being willing to shed the shackles of stereotype and gender expectations. People should be who they are and not try to force their bodies into resembling society’s unreasonable and unrealistic simulacra of fashion magazines and movie stars.