Undressing Our Heroes

By now the world has seen a lot more of figure skater Jamie Sale than it did when her skirt may have flipped up on the ice during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

If you don't remember her name (and I didn't at first), you might remember her Modigliani eyes and Ivory Girl face; Sale was the Canadian figure skater who, with partner David Pelletier, almost got jerked out of her gold medal when a French judge handed it over to the less stellar Russian team, making Sale and Pelletier the Gore and Leiberman of sports for a few minutes. Fortunately, Skategate was quickly rectified, and the Canadians got their gold.

Now Sale is getting a little PR by posing in a racey-but-tasteful photo shoot for FHM magazine. In the online version, Sale says she wants to remind men that figure skating is sexy -- as though men needed a reminder to have lascivious thoughts about anything. You could run over a man's foot in your car and he'd still take a moment to appreciate the perfect curve of your wheels.

It might surprise a lot of people that Sale, a self-described "wholesome girl," decided to pose for a sexy layout like this. It even surprised her. She went into the shoot not wanting to wear anything as skimpy as a bathing suit and ended up topless (though her breasts are always covered; with fake snow in one shot). In the photos, which I saw online, she is stunning. In addition to other body parts, a few eyebrows might be raised because Sale is exactly the kind of celebrity usually tapped for the part of Role Model. Why, some might wonder, would such a good girl exploit herself?

I like it that she did this. Lately, manipulated images of The American Hero have been foisted on us; George W. Bush holding a phony Thanksgiving turkey; Jessica Lynch on the cover of Time Magazine. But these flat images for our new flat screen TVs don't always fit in life, which comes in 3-D. I like that Sale, who has all the qualifications to be the archetypal Good Girl, upended the image. I know she only meant to get a little publicity and didn't intend her self-exposure to buttress any philosophical arguments, but to me what she's proving is that people are endlessly complex. She had the unswerving dedication to achieve the purest of goals and she's also got the humor to show herself as a bombshell. That's cool. That's a role model with a little texture.

The Jessica Lynch caper is probably the best example of a Role Model becoming even more exemplary than she was set up to be by simply telling the truth. It was brave enough of her to go to Iraq at 19; an age where, for most girls, Iraq something boys tell you you have a nice one of. The fact that Lynch called out the spin doctors on making her into a she-Rambo and told the truth when she didn't even have to, points to an integrity that transcends anything the image makers could have created.

Madeleine Albright is another example of someone who has the guts to poke holes in her dignified image. She made it to Secretary of State when there are some days I'm lucky to make it to the grocery store. I look at women like that and despair at times, thinking that they're so strong, focused and high-minded they probably never let something as dopey as love get in their way, like I do. Then I read an article about Albright in Elle magazine a few months ago. Speaking of her divorce, she said, "I know that at the time I would have given up any thought of a career if it would have made Joe change his mind."

In her autobiography, "Madam Secretary: A Memior," Albright talks about the 30 miles of bad road she endured on the way to the final split and says she had even absorbed her husband's tastes, and "rediscovered" after the divorce that though the couple had eaten beef for dinner regularly she didn't really like it. "Perhaps," she says, "without realizing it, I had always needed someone to reaffirm my worth."

That depth and candor, the willingness to show that she can be Secretary of State and also be a fool for love is more inspiring to me than the flat, polished sheet of her resume would be. It helps to realize that these personalities are normal people who have heroic or iconic moments, and that if they can do something, any of us screw-ups can.

There is so much tiresome, simplistic imagery coming out of Hollywood and Washington -- and prepare yourself to see much more of it with the presidential campaigns looming -- that you have to wonder if that isn't why we sometimes even typecast ourselves; the tortured artist, the nice guy, the writer in search of a nifty way to wrap up an opinion piece.

Seeing people in 3-D is a lot better for us than the one-dimensional images we're usually served up. Time is going to change us anyway, so we might as well do some of it ourselves. Jamie Sale, for example, is going to be glad in her golden years that she has a record of herself looking so hot in her gold medal years. For an athlete, it was a good stretching exercise.

Liz Langley, a freelance writer who lives in Orlanda, Florida, is the creator of ABBAParty.com.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.