I used to subscribe to Harper’s Magazine, a publication that has long reveled in social analysis from a literary perspective. With a combination of fascination and incredulity, I read a story about people who develop a sexual fetish for big machinery like cranes and trucks. They try to have sex with these objects of desire. Sometimes it does not end so well.
I guess there are also programs on TV (I have not seen them) in which people reveal their strange addictions. One person eats plastic bags. Lots of plastic bags.
So you can probably feel okay if your love of triathlon gets a bit fetishistic. That lust you feel for your sleek tri-bike may not be exactly normal, but at least you’re not trying to hump it. Well, maybe you are. That’s the typical pose for an aero bike. Like you’re going to mount the front wheel from behind.
Let’s not fool ourselves. There are quite a few sports where fetishism is part of the action. There are definitive homoerotic aspects to pro-wrestling or UFC. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a reality.
Certainly all of women’s sports tend to be sexualized in some way. Women who try to combat that trend tend to find it fruitless in some respects. Those who roll with it find success that is pyrrhic in some ways. No matter how well a woman performs, there seems to come a point where they are judged on their appearance.
That raises the ironic question: Is it bad to be appreciated for your beauty if it is athletic in some way? Then the question of choices is raised. The outfits of top women triathletes are often so spare they are essentially just a colored layer of skin. The statement seems to be, “Deal with it. This is my body.”
It seems to be the accepted model that if you fetishize yourself, that is empowerment. Taking ownership of the display of your body is, after all, a personal choice. But if others fetishize you as an act of possessive lust or control, there is some question as to whether that is a positive.
That’s what makes it so tough to know in this world where the lines of control begin and where they end. Certainly there is not a woman alive that would wear her triathlon skinsuit to a business meeting. Yet in a competitive environment,there is no more powerful appearing creature on earth than a fit, determined woman.
For men, it can be just as confusing, but for entirely different reasons. The typical male might crave desirability, yet blatant attempts to gain that attention are often frowned upon or considered a bit weird. A few years back, the world’s top sprinters began wearing tight lycra running kits. Yet in slow motion replays the distraction of watching their junk fly around was just too much to bear. Since then, the kits have evolved to offer a bit more control.
Despite these difficulties, the sports in which we engage and the fetishes we display are ultimately good for society as a whole. Way back in ancient Greece and Rome, athletes performed in the nude. Athleticism was celebrated and yes, even fetishized. We find evidence of that in the art on clay bowls that have lasted through the centuries.
There were probably people back then that tried to have sex with the columns of the Parthenon and a few that tried to hump a few chariots. There is no real accounting for the fetishes of the human race, or how they are manifested. The best we can do is find that middle ground where sex mixes with exercise and we all agree to cheer on the participants. Because that is the best fetish of all. Attend any Ironman event and you’ll witness the fetishizing of endeavor and fatigue. It’s like one giant humpfest with exhaustion. And what a machine it is.
GIVE FULLY. TRAIN HARD. COMPETE WELL.