In a world where everything is based on appearance and fitting into the mold created by others, ESPN's annual Body Issue helps to deliver a much-needed message of self-acceptance.
While all who are featured are in prime shape, there is a diversity that I love that is far more reflective of the world we live in than the media usually reflects.
This year's collection of athletes includes Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Texas Ranger first baseman Prince Fielder, Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka and Multiple Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.
From an early age, we are slammed with images and messages that attempt to tell us what the "ideal" body is. Women especially are subjected to certain ideas about what constitutes beautiful.
The Barbie body type has never been a realistic notion of what a woman should strive to look like. In a land that prides itself on being the melting pot of cultures and differing views, far too many people have felt pressured to be something they are not.
Honestly, men do get a lot more leeway when it comes to appearance. The unavoidable truth is society views larger men differently than it views larger women, but the genderless pressure to look "good" still remains.
The definition of "manhood" that surrounds us is very much a factor in how boys grow up. All of the hero images we hold to be ideal involve hard bodies with ultra-defined muscles without an ounce of body fat. It's a very high bar that can lead people to extreme, unhealthy measures to obtain the ideal..
This is where I find the beauty in what ESPN provides each year with the Body Issue. It highlights the fact that the body comes in many shapes and forms. Keeping it fit, in shape and healthy does not result in one singular type of figure.
Athletics exemplify this concept, as different forms of sports engage different muscles. Some athletes will have larger legs while others may have broader upper bodies.
In addition to the bodies on display, the issue provides us with stories about the people featured. In sharing the human body, we see the scars, beauty marks and tattoos that come with their own tales.
I think the standout in this year's issue is Prince Fielder. We all know the stats about weight in the United States, so I think it's great that a man who carries a larger frame while maintaining his fitness is featured in the issue.
Fielder is much closer to what many see in the mirror than a man like Serge Ibaka. Prince Fielder told ESPN,
You don't have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete. A lot of people probably think I'm not athletic or don't even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you're big doesn't mean you can't be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn't mean you're going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I'm not going up there trying to be a fitness model.
That's what acceptance sounds like to me. The only approval you need for your appearance is your own. When you have that and can live with that confidence in yourself, everything else falls into place.
Kudos to ESPN for using its powerful platform to send such an admirable message to the people.
Top Photo Courtesy: ESPN Magazine