Robin Givhan scrutinizes "the supremely unflattering Sports Illustrated cover" of Michael Phelps. What's so bad about it? Click over. First impression: He's wearing a weird spangly halter top. Second: Oh... those are his medals. Ha ha. Third: Get those crappy Chinese tapestries off him and let me see the torso.
Givhan compares the Phelps photo to the iconic Mark Spitz photo, where the medals hung on chains that remind Givhan of a whole 70s picture:
Spitz's medals are hanging from thin metal chains, a detail that gives the photo a kind of 1970s cool. You could imagine him in some fern bar wearing those medals with a pair of bell-bottoms and a polyester shirt with a collar the size of elephant ears. The photograph captures a particular '70s sexy aesthetic a la Burt Reynolds in the Playgirl centerfold.And all the gay guys in Greenwich Village back then! (I lived there 1976-1981.)
Givhan also frets about Phelps's lack of "the kind of pumped up, six-pack Hollywood torso typically found on the cover of Men's Fitness and that has come to define today's sexy man." She calls the Phelps torso "a 1970s torso" and says: "To understand its power, it needs to be seen in action barreling through the water like a torpedo."
As long as we're developing our understanding, why don't we look at those Men's Fitness models and rethink whether they represent power? Their muscles come not from doing something admirable and powerful, but from doing what they've figured out will make them look like that. Shouldn't function underlie power? Their function is to model. Phelps's body is what real power looks like.