Slippery slope

A U.S. skier bares it all, and then bears the brunt of the reaction.

Published February 13, 2006 9:47PM (EST)

What do Broadsheet readers think of this story about 24-year-old U.S. Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, who today tells the Times that she doesn't want to be known for her body but for her athleticism?

Bleiler, the top female snowboarder in the United States and the only woman alive to do the dangerous "Michalchuk" move, is also a frequent magazine covergirl, and appeared on FHM clad only in body paint. Now, she told the Times, she is often asked to pose nude or in a bathing suit. "Sometimes I want to tell people, 'By the way, I'm a snowboarder, too,'" she said.

Lee Jenkins reports on photo shoots Bleiler did last week at which she was not photographed on her board: "As Bleiler did her poses for the camera  smiley-face and pouty-face, glance to the left and stare to the right  she started to laugh at herself. 'It's a lot of fun,' she said. 'But there are times when I'm like, "Can I go do something real now?"'"

Jenkins's description of Bleiler's two-mindedness on the subject of modelling -- one minute saying it's the hardest part of her job, the next announcing that she might pursue it professionally -- reveals a lot about the quandary an attractive and successful 24-year-old must find herself in. The rewards she's getting for her beauty are probably just as plentiful -- if not more so -- than the plaudits she's reaping for her talent.

Some Broadsheeters I've spoken to about Bleiler take a "she made her bed, now she's got to lie in it" attitude. Part of retaining control of your sexuality is accepting responsibility for it. As soon as you put yourself out there in body paint, there are consequences -- like people wanting you to take your clothes off again, or concentrating more on your bod than your board. Bleiler even says this herself, noting that when deciding to do the FHM cover, "You have to know that it is going to shape your image from then on. The first step is very important. You have to ask yourself if you're O.K. with it...And I'm O.K. with it."

But I think it must be confusing for a 24-year-old who is experiencing a national -- and international -- spotlight for the first time to discover how much approval she gets for her beauty, even in comparison to her awesome athletic talents. Bleiler's snowboarding compatriot Lindsey Jacobellis, who stars in a Visa ad campaign, described the perks of modelling: "I like that it opens doors."

More doors than representing your country in the Olympics? More doors than becoming proficient in a male-dominated sport? Alas, maybe....

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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