Friday, October 23, 2009

"sexy" photos with oversized chess pieces are creepy

the Breen sisters: Patricia, Karena, and Anne Marie


Would you believe there are also three world-class checkers-playing sisters? I found this out because I was curious about other male-dominated subcultures and how they market/promote/ imagine/depict female players.

Can I say I'm a little weirded out by the hyper-sexual photography of top female players with chess pieces? I'm not objecting to sexy pictures per se, although maybe it's a little unprofessional sometimes, but it's just so insanely silly with the chess pieces. Imagine if female checkers players were routinely photographed sucking on little round red disks. Or female rowers, rubbing themselves with oars. Or female microbiologists, posing in bikinis, pouting their lips, throwing around giant inflatable models of viruses.






really, could you be any less symbolically subtle?



Absolutely no disrespect is meant to any of the above women. I'm sure the poses were not their idea.

I figured I should add this one:

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

No, I'm not ready to sign up for the Taliban, far from it. And I don't consider myself prudish in the least -- really far from it!

But I must sometimes admit that the brazen use of female sexuality to promote everything, and I mean everything, has just gotten out of hand.

Sigh!

Michael Goeller said...

You forgot the most notorious example: Krush crushing a King on the Chess Life cover. Look, if you play a game with phallic shaped pieces (according to Freudian analysts Ernest Jones and Reuben Fine), you are bound to have photographers exploiting that imagery. But sometimes a pawn is only a pawn....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ernst Grunfeld on this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this topic up. I think these photographs are part of the problem with the argument that chess needs to be sold in a mainstream-friendly way, get on TV, etc. The sad fact is that since chess is inherently not entertaining for the masses, all that remains is to package it pruriently. But these advocates shouldn't kid themselves that they are selling chess anymore.

Mark Howitt said...

I think all those pics are fine.

Mark Howitt said...

And if the players didn't want to do them- they obviously wouldn't. The players obviously had a say in the poses- Kosteniuk does loads of them but I think the one selected is her hottest :)

Elizabeth Vicary said...

For me the Krush picture isn't in this catagory - you can feel a sense of her personality and it isn't a mindless glazed-over sexy look. Maybe it's because she isn't pretending to caress a chess piece.

Doug said...

If these photos are the most "offensive" you could find I don't think you're making a very strong case IMHO. They are sexy and suggestive, for sure, but I see nothing OVERTLY sexual (rubbing against or grinding as you imply in your post). Pretty women attract attention. Always have, always will. And these women are gorgeous. The fact that they're also smart just makes them even more attractive.

Anonymous said...

If the girl was underneath the knight, I would find the picture creepy.

Anonymous said...

You missed mentioning the even more sexualized Anna Zatonskih with a big check in between her legs, or the hula hooping chess! Grown women gyrating is not soft porn? I guess chess playing women got a bad rap in the past for being too boring or frigid, but this seems like an attempt by women to re-sexualize chess-playing female champions that is so overdone, it really is soft porn. Why not just have them pole dance on a bishop? That's about the same level of sexualization.

I agree, I seriously doubt the women would have planned these shots or scenes themselves...
It should be noted that Irina Krush did not appear in the sexual pictures or hula hooping chess. I don't know if that was a conscious decision, but maybe.

Then again, on the issue of women's chess....what else do you think will happen when there are women's tournaments in a primarily male game? That is the inevitable result of having separate women's tournaments with large prizes of $15,000, which is basically unjustified when you consider Zatonskih's level of play in this tournament, compared to that of the winners of other serious tournaments.

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

These pictures are silly but not because of the subject matter...they are just bad. (Jenn's is ok, but the others just make me cringe.)

Good photography is extremely difficult to achieve. It takes tons of talent, thought, and luck.

As chess players, we do not have any decent celebrity photography!! There are some well intentioned amateurs but nothing that would ever be considered to be published in GQ, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, etc.

That being said, I'm all for chicks and chess pieces...I just want the photography to show more imagination and creativity!!!

Anonymous said...

Jealousy is a b..tch huh Liz. Fact is women are always jealous of other women who are better looking, more successful than them. Here I think it is hard to argue that both elements are present.

Eric said...

I feel a certain sense of embarrassment for these women...but I'm sure most of them realize how totally goofy they look. Except maybe Kosteniuk...
Frankly I think pics like these slightly cheapen the game of chess in the eyes of the public. It's supposed to be a classy, intellectual pursuit.

Jan said...

I think the women look great and the rest of it is just schtick, and I don't have a problem with it. I wish I looked so good in photographs :) Creepy to me would be seeing pictures of some of the good looking males chessplayers in these same poses with the chess pieces.

THAT would be totally shocking to my middle-aged, middle-class, middle-America ethic! It seems to me the issue is actually one of perspective. If we as a society, and on an individual basis, have bought into the story line that chess is a war game, blah blah blah, then yeah, seeing women posing with obvious phallic symbols is disturbing as an objectification, etc. of females. I think chess is much more exquisitely nuanced than that.

I think the photographer is poking fun at the chess as war analogy - yeah, caress that phallic symbol and give air smooches to the horsey, just before you gut them and their carcasses removed from the board.

Jan Newton
www.goddesschess.com
www.goddesschess.blogspot.com

Ed Scimia said...

I voted "silly," but also that we do have very iconic pieces, so it's not surprising that we have photographs that use them in striking ways. As long as it's not overdone, I don't think it's too creepy or problematic.

Mark Howitt said...

See Liz- you have a female comment now saying the pics are ok.

The pictures aren't even overtly sexual.

A lot of female chess players LIKE doing these kind of pics and ASK to have their picture taken. You know Kosteniuk wasn't forced into doing that shot- and that is certainly the 'hottest' of the pics. Checkout pics taken by the Dutch photographer who covers Corus- Fred Lucas I think. He's a v good photographer.

Anyway, so I think these pics are fine. They can help popularise the game to both men and women.

anjiaoshi said...

I think cheesecakery is still much more widely socially accepted in the "Old World" than it is here, especially in Eastern Europe. When Abby Marshall breaks into the majors, I doubt you'll see her indulging in this stuff.

As for Jennifer Shahade's hula hoop fixation . . . seems less cheesecake and more hipster to me. Hula hooping is an urban fad, like cupcakes, roller derby, hookah bars, and trying to care for a large dog in a small apartment.

julius g said...

I know a little something about sexploitation, and I promise you, it goes for men as well. Entering chess I was just a fish, and barely had a rating of four figures, yet every publisher wanted to put me on the cover of their chess magazine. They told me when it came to a rating I didn't need four or even three figures, as long as I kept my main figure, that being my lascivious torso. Then came the usual photoshoot, laying on top of me with their erectness pushing into my crotch, trying to interlock their sweaty body with mine. Camera lens in my face as they dry hump slowly trying to sate their body's wants. Unlike most women, the final product looked like a closeup, and hid the sexual nature of the shoot, but when I saw the magazines, I knew. I don't want to use any industry names, but you can imagine my horror after a two hour shoot seeing Matt Phelps holding his fingers up to his friends noses all high-fiving each other as I rub liquid soap all over me in shame.

Anonymous said...

Julius, can you link us to some of these pictures of yourself that you are referring to? It would be nice to compare and contrast.

anjiaoshi said...

THEY'RE TOO HOT FOR THE INTERNET

Claire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Lafferty said...

John, beware the erectile watch.
http://www.kosteniuk.com/en/about/gifads/BalmainAd.jpg

http://www.kosteniuk.com/en/about/gifads/FreundinCover.jpg

Beware the phallic symbolism of some of these professionally shot covers.
http://www.kosteniuk.com/albums/covergirl9-05/covergirl9-05.html

BEWARE--Elle phallicism
http://www.kosteniuk.com/albums/ellegirl/ellegirl.html

When I taught high school in New Orleans, there were Christian schools visiting the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts that requested certain parts of naked human form sculptures be covered before the students visited.

IMO Liz, ya need to lighten up a bit.

Rihel said...

As a one-time chess teacher, I can say that some of these sexualized images turned off several parents, especially parents with daughters who were interested in chess. And, as the local chess peddler, images like these were embarrassing to me. I was trying to encourage more parents to let their girls play the ultimate intellectual game (for any gender), and then they would ask about photos like these. I had no good answer to why they should allow their child to enter a male-centric world like this.

Leon Akpalu said...

It's complicated, but...

1) It's fairly ludicrous to say that Kosteniuk's poses are not (at this point) her own idea. She's been doing this for quite a while and has quite a bit of material from when she was younger that shows a lot more skin. Of course, *that* may have been her handler's idea back then.

2) And why isn't Pogonina in here? Or does she just write about it?

3) Chess as a field is coming off widespread junior-high-male type attitudes towards sex in general, in the not-too-distant past. Imagine an alternative universe in which Jerry Hanken is Chess Life editor and Tim Taylor is the photo editor.

I've seen covers for the british magazine Chess that contained only large-breated models playing chess wearing skimpy black or white outfits. We're definitely ahead of them (and of course ChessBase), though perhaps not enough to feel any pride in.

4) I think actually that some of the photos are more trying to make chess look "glamorous" than sexy. It is not easy to make a clear distinction between the two.

Likewise, there is a perpetual issue in our culture of women trying to find ways to be assertively sexy without objectifying themselves -- especially in a non-interactive medium like photography.

If I had to choose a venue that would tackle these problems and bring to bear the creativity and commitment necessary to solving them, I have to say that the chess community would be near the bottom of my list. Even the simple and concrete tasks of running the USCF office often seems to be done by the seat of their pants; resolving cultural issues that pervade all human culture is way beyond them.

5) Some women *do* just like to look glamorous, and this does seem to be mostly a European thing. That we read it differently is not necessarily their fault.

As we get more home-grown 2300+ players, we'll get more folks like Krush -- whose iconic photos are of her in sweats or the leather jacket clutching her forehead over the board (and I personally think this has tons more gravitas than the Europeans in evening gowns) -- or Shahade, who engages sexuality in much more modern, American ways (trapeze, naked male opponent).

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Leon:
1) ok, sure, I didn’t want to insult anyone.
2) Does Pogonina have any giant chess piece photos? I found this one, but she’s hardly embarrassing herself here: http://www.pogonina.com/index.php?option=com_true&Itemid=42&func=detail&catid=30&id=393.
3) It’s easy to say everyone does this, but someone has to be the first person to stand up and say “wait a minute, that’s not normal or sexy; even though it goes on all the time, it’s stupid and ridiculous.”

Brian: I don’t “need” to do anything, and randomly suggesting a problem with someone’s personality is a silly way to make an argument (ad hominen?). I’m not asking anyone to cover up art or even to stop being publicly sexual; I’m asking people to stop being so completely tasteless.

Jenn’s hula hoop thing… I found it visually amusing, but I agree it’s ridiculous and unlikely to appeal to men. I feel like CLO should concentrate on
a) chess analysis (more geared towards lower rated players—why not have a puzzle of the day and an opening of the week—start with system openings like the French Fort Knox that you can teach in 1 column)
b) human interest stuff (why not a column that interviews a different GM/top female/top scholastic player/top chess coach each month? What are their lives like? How do they balance chess and real life?)
c) tournament reports
d) chess related competitions: best reader chess photo, best reader chess joke, best reader chess opening trap, best reader chess problem.

Mark — One woman agreeing with you, even an entire federation of women paying money to be photographed having sex with giant chess pieces, is not a valid logical argument.

Somehow it struck me as hilarious to be accused of jealousy by an anonymous person.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

also, have you guys checked out chess.com lately... it's become a pretty awesome site.

Brian Lafferty said...

"Brian: I don’t “need” to do anything, and randomly suggesting a problem with someone’s personality is a silly way to make an argument (ad hominen?). I’m not asking anyone to cover up art or even to stop being publicly sexual; I'm asking people to stop being so completely tasteless."

Of course you don't have to lighten up. And I'm glad you're not asking anyone to cover up. However, you are on a very slippery slope arguing from what is tasteful. I believe it it was the comedian Tom Lehrer who sang, "Smut, for I am glad to say, is in the mind of the beholder."

And BTW, Russell Brand was spot on about hitting that additional spot. Hilarious scene. Some would argue tasteless, but tasteless is most often OK. People thought Picasso was tasteless.

Tom Chivers said...

It seems to me, Chessbase has a lot to answer for when it comes to the representation of women chess players. Their emphasis on photography of female players implies that when men play we watch the board - but when a woman plays, we watch her. I find that even creepier than silly photographs.

Brian Lafferty said...

Gene, I wonder how many women look at the photos of male players and find them "interesting" off the board.

I recall my godmother in Montreal years ago remarking that one of the reasons she enjoyed watching soccer on TV was the men with great legs.

Brian Lafferty said...

Make that, Tom. More coffee, please........

Jerry Towns said...

Your post begs a more important question, Liz: Why are professional male chess players not given the opportunity to pose provocatively? I agree Liz, it's unfair that such a double standard exists!

Why wasn't Ben Finegold, after straddling the line between International Master and Grandmaster for years, given the opportunity to straddle a bishop on the cover of Chess life, in celebration of his recent accomplishment?

Anonymous said...

Jerry,

Certainly a scary thought, Finegold in any kind of provocative pose. But it brings up another point - by pushing the image of the sexy female chess player, do you think there can be psychological damage to those female players who are not attractive? A pretty female who scores 8th place gets the main spread in Chess Life, while the frumpy dumpy winner gets a postage stamp sized photo. It would seem to be demeaning, not just for the exploitation of physical looks over chess skill, but for the deafening silence the less attractive may feel, even if they are better players.
They are females, yes, get over it - or go to the internet to find terrabytes of photos/videos of better looking women doing much more with much less clothing. Is it so hard (no pun intended!) to just appreciate a female chess player for her chess - and just her chess?

Anonymous said...

Thus far the discussion has focused on how female chess players are portrayed visually, but has anyone ever noticed how they are treated in text? One of my pet peeves with Chess Life is the tendency among male writers when mentioning a female player in an article--especially the younger ones in their teens or early twenties--to include completely gratuitous comments about the person's appearance. This reflexive sexism reached ludicrous heights--or depths--a few years ago when a chess journalist who shall remain nameless described then 15-year old Abby Marshall as a "charming, attractive red head." Now, admittedly, charm and attractiveness are in the eye of the beholder, but I can confirm, having known Abby since, well, the moment she was born that she is not, and has never been, a red head.

Jeff

Ben said...

I have some pretty scary provocative poses from the US Women's.

I will probably be on the cover of Chess Life in 2-3 months, so, maybe you will get your *wish.*

Pics are awesome.

BPF

Rihel said...

Elizabeth,

What did you think of the new Chess Life cover, with Lev Alburt posing with what appear to be some hookers pretending to be "James Bond girls?" This is one takes the cake in poor taste. I love how they are in red-Communist tones, while Lev is in shining color!

My wife and I were laughing for days when it came in the mail.

You can see halfway down the page at:

http://main.uschess.org/content/view/7849/384/

Finally, people commented in the Chessbase women photos. These are bad, too.