2012 Summer Olympics

Lolo Jones Reconciles Her Public Nudity and Public Virginity

DOHA, QATAR - MARCH 13:  Lolo Jones of United States celebrates winning gold in the Womens 60m Hurdles Final during Day 2 of the IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Aspire Dome on March 13, 2010 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Rocky SamuelsCorrespondent IIMay 27, 2012

Lolo Jones is a publicly proclaimed virgin who took it all off for ESPN The Magazine's 2009 Body Issue, and if you have a problem with that, she will take you on with her Bible.

Lolo admits that she has hurdled a myriad of temptations in her effort to stay chaste, and she's hoping such training leads to virgin gold—a husband who is willing to say "I'll wait" until he hears "I do."

Lolo's commitment to virginity may seem like a throwback to a stuffier, prudish age when male chaperones protected the pure reputations of women, but her incisive rejoinders to (perceived) criticism show that she is no shrinking violet.

She scoffs at the idea that dedicated virginal men might find nude images of the sleek, toned sprinter to be a stumbling block on their own paths to purity.

One man was so thrilled to hear the religious grounds upon which Lolo is saying no-no that he joined Twitter just to laud her noble efforts, but he also felt compelled to get some clarity on her naked poses.

Twitter does not allow for long, nuanced replies that seamlessly integrate feminist philosophy with biblical hermeneutics, so Lolo did not mince words:

@Taylor_E_Maddox go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed

— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) May 25, 2012

She then pointed to gendered double standards:

@Taylor_E_Maddox Ryan hall is another christian. He's done missions in africa & posed in latest issue. Shall u judge him as well? John 8:7

— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) May 25, 2012

If some people want explanations from Lolo, others would prefer she kept quiet about her sexual choices.

There is a drone of responses to reports about Lolo's virginity that can be summarized like this: "Who cares? I'm interested in an athlete's performance in their sport, not their bedroom."

That, I think, is an understandable and even commendable reply that speaks to our desire to stay out of people's private lives, even when they are in the public eye.

That attitude can be misleading, though, because the reality is that sports are often sexualized, and women's sports are especially vulnerable to such added meanings.

Author Dave Zirin claims, for example:

What high-level women's athletes have to do to get coverage in mainstream outlets often times is to take off their clothes. It's sad to say, but that's the way it works. 

For those individual women, it helps raise their profile and possibly make them some money. But it certainly doesn't help promote women's sports.

Let's play three degrees of separation for a second to consider an example.

Lolo rhymes with Tebow, so it is natural that a cultural groundswell would arise calling for a pairing of the virginal evangelical athletes.

It is easy to imagine a litter of "Lobows" leaping swiftly over hurdles, like their mom, and running roughshod over obstacles, like their dad. (For the sake of this hypothetical generation, let's hope Lolo has good throwing genes.)

Tebow was once speculated—falsely I should add—to be in a relationship with another Olympian, American skier Lindsey Vonn.

Okay, so here we have it: Lolo to Tebow to Vonn.

I have facilitated spirited discussions in classrooms about the comparison of two Sports Illustrated covers, one of which featured Vonn.

When students see a slide of the Feb. 8, 2010 SI cover with Vonn juxtaposed to a similar Olympic-themed cover shot from 1992 of American skier A.J. Kitt, they often quickly enumerate a slew of differences.

They notice that the male athlete is in an action shot. Vonn, by contrast, is posed in a tuck position, but is clearly not skiing. Her face is made-up, and some students claim that she is smiling suggestively at the camera. 

Many students usually conclude ruefully that the male skier is celebrated for his athletic prowess, while the female athlete needs to be done up like a model to get the same glossy attention.

If so, how do we interpret Vonn's participation in such a shoot?

Well, perhaps Vonn has unwittingly internalized that insidious, if often hidden, cultural narrative that suggests a woman's value rests primarily on her sex appeal, no matter how gifted she is in athletics.

Some students, though, are not satisfied with the idea that Vonn was in some subtle way duped, or that she is just a pawn in a broader, male-dominated game of control over women's bodies and women's sports.

Those students will point to Vonn's power as a woman to pose however she sees fit, and for whatever purposes she wants.

I imagine that a student discussion of Lolo's public virginity and public nudity would be even more complicated. Those two dimensions of Lolo can be reconciled, though, in empowering ways.

By championing her chastity, Lolo denudes (pun intended) societal tendencies to sexualize female athletes. After all, it is more difficult to objectify a person who so publicly articulates her control over her own sexuality.

Lolo's decision to pose nude in the ESPN Body Issue and her subsequent defense of the artistic merits of that shoot, also challenges the sexualization of the female athlete, but this time by taking nudity out of the exclusive purview of sexuality.

By challenging her tweeting interlocutor to consider that a Christian male athlete also posed in the nude for the ESPN Body Issue, Lolo drew attention to society's double standards.

Male bodies can be seen as paragons of athletic development, but female bodies are more often propped up for the sexual luring of men. Lolo isn't having it.

Lolo, then, may have become an object of media curiosity with her admission of virginity, but in less obvious ways, she is also a subject of change.

In a society that increasingly celebrates diversity, Lolo is forging a viable (but not universally applicable) path for female athletes to negotiate the sometimes treacherous terrain of sports, bodies, sexuality and power.

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