As the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue hits newsstands, the female athletes that are featured provide a message of inspiration and empowerment. In years past, sex appeal was a very significant factor. While the magazine is a diverse celebration of what makes an athlete’s physique so captivating, the overcoming of unique struggles among the female athletes that choose to appear has the ultimate appeal.
Jamie Anderson, who competed in Snowboarding at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, is a free spirit that has gone against convention while finding the confidence to succeed. As one of eight children, Anderson comes from a background where she was homeschooled and opted to not have a coach in her teens.
Having experienced the pinnacle of her sport, she treats her body with a natural and holistic approach. Methods such as yoga, meditation, reading, burning sage and incense are among her favorites. Along with a competitor from Norway (Kjersti Buaas), being in the presence of trees provides a sense of peace and serenity that provides relaxation should nerves prevail before a contest.
With calmness as one of her best qualities, she proves that a healthy mind is a key factor in a healthy body. Any discussion on the body is one where Anderson engages in the wonder of its healing properties. After rupturing her spleen several years ago, the ability to recover from it helps place value on her health and body.
Following in the footsteps of her sister Serena (who appeared on the cover of the Body Issue in 2009), Venus appeared in the 2014 edition. Her appearance is a real opportunity to celebrate the battle she has had with Sjorgen’s syndrome.
Despite being a world class tennis player, the syndrome is one where an individual can experience extreme fatigue. Although she acknowledges it was a life-changing experience, she also states that she does not like being defeated by anything.
Crediting her father with advice on new techniques, these alternative approaches to her game are testament to the creativity that she wants to bring to her game. Her willingness to always find a solution is what makes her a true role model.
One of the world’s most popular hockey players, Hilary Knight’s appearance in the Body Issue is one that may have brought about positive change. Considering that she added muscle to her frame (weighing 185 pounds) heading into the Sochi Winter Games, she talks about how there were concerns about muscle not being sexy.
Her appearance is one that helps challenge perceptions about body image and perceived views on weight. Challenging such notions, Knight proves that a woman should be able to feel comfortable in her own skin. As a side note, the ESPN web site even featured an infographic on how Knight got her physique.
With ambitions to compete in the triathlon, Danyelle Wolf made the transition to boxing because she was told by a trainer that she had the build of a fighter. Although she initially met resistance as she was told she could not succeed because she was a woman, it would prove to be the first of many obstacles that she overcame.
Currently a two-time US national champ and a member of the US national team, she has made believers out of her doubters. Proud of her chiseled physique, she also believes that there is more to the image of a boxer than a rough and tumble fighter. Highly educated, she also enjoys adorning herself in high heels and dresses, appreciating fashion.
Having gone from track and field to bobsled, Aja Evans has made the athletic transition similar to Wolf. While Wolf faced criticism over her gender, Evans faced concerns over looking too muscular. Although she does rely on ice cream as comfort food, Evans acknowledges that learning to embrace her physique was the turning point in her athletic life, making her feel invincible.
In Evans’ life, athletics runs in the family. Of note, her brother Fred is a Defensive Tackle with the Minnesota Vikings. Their father was an avid swimmer while mother ran track and field. Former major league baseball player Gary Matthews is an uncle, while current player Gary Matthews, Jr. is their cousin.
Having had the luxury of training with NFL stars, she learned quickly that off the field, friendship trumps competition. Like so many track stars, she made the transition to bobsled and it resulted in a bronze medal at the Winter Games. Despite the competition (only nine bobsledders travel during the season), she understood the values of teamwork as she was part of the four-woman bobsled team.
A superstar with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry has endured her share of physical and emotional scars. As a star player, she endured many cheap shots as a way of trying to get her off her game. Playing against boys when she was younger, blocking their shots would serve in verbal jabs, forcing her to tell others to treat her as a player and not as a girl.
Growing up, she endured many problems on the way she perceived herself due to her size. This was compounded by corns on her feet from wearing smaller-sized shoes as a child. Although she reflects on it as a mistake, she hopes it proves to young players that they need to be proud of who they are.
Professional surfer Coco Ho was captured on her surf board wearing nothing but confidence as she shared her own concerns about being muscular. Acknowledging that she had the legs of a gymnast, she mentioned that it took time to appreciate how the power of her legs made her powerful.
The love of the waves is definitely in Ho’s blood. Just like Aja Evans came from an athletic family, Ho’s family made their mark in surfing. Her uncle Derek was the first male world champion to come from Hawaii. Her father retired from competition as a two-time Triple Crown winner, while her borther actively competes today.
In a sport like surfing where everyone wears swimsuits, she feels that fans are more interested in the most attractive competitors rather than the most successful athletes. While it is an uphill struggle for the sport, she hopes the results will eventually serve as the substance in a female surfer’s career.
Of all the women that chose to be part of the 2014 edition of the ESPN Body Issue, Amy Purdy may have brought the most courage. Despite her disability of no longer having her legs, losing them at the age of 19 due to septic shock), Purdy approaches it with a remarkable perspective. Recognizing that the mind gives up before the body does, her enjoyment for life is only stronger.
Trying to figure out what was possible and what she could do with her prosthetic limbs was more important than self-pity. Surviving a coma that sidelined her for two and a half weeks was the greatest triumph in her life, setting the stage for more victories to come.
Being able to find a way to snowboard again would prove to be a source of inspiration for future fans. Despite struggles with kidney failure and weighing as low as 83 pounds, she never missed a snowboarding season. Even with the loss of her legs, she can still feel pressure, enhancing the awareness of her body and how to position herself in competition.
Recognizing the beauty of her beauty and accepting that muscle can be feminine is a common theme among these remarkable women who have captured the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over. Appearing in the ESPN Body Issue is more than just a celebration of their athletic accomplishments; it is an opportunity to understand that their past struggles are an endearing quality that shows a soft, human side. While these are women that are world class athletes, the ability to talk about the acceptance of their physiques and celebrate the overcoming of these mental hurdles makes them world class people.