ESPN‘s latest Body Issue has inspired plenty of ogling since it was released earlier this month, but before Hope Solo posed nude, there were others, and they haven’t always been received with as much acceptance and fanfare. Women have stripped down in the name of art and entertainment for centuries, but when female athletes do, it hits a nerve: These are women we look up to as bastions of the feminist movement, symbols of strength and defiance of a world that has long been the exclusive province of men. So when they strip down to nothing but a strategically-positioned soccer ball or cleverly-arranged yoga pose, their fans get upset.
The media shows so few women playing sports, and the small number of images that we do see are intentionally sexualized. Women look quite strong and independent in their uniforms, but the media purposefully accentuates the sexier, feminine portrait off the playing field.
Still, many female athletes argue in defense of their choice to go nude, and they’ve been doing it now for years. Some have gotten naked simply for publicity and money, and many have done it in support of their favorite cause or charity. But their nudity has almost always caused significant criticism and uproar. Here’s a short history of female athletes posing nude (and the debates that they’ve spurred in response):