It's OK to ogle the world's best bods -- male or female -- during the Olympics.
For two-plus weeks every leap year, the world's best bodies are on display, often in skimpy outfits, at the Olympic Games. This being 2012, images of those physiques are all over the Internet in general and social media in particular -- with another 21st-century twist:
Male athletes are being ogled at least as heartily as females, and very little fuss is being raised about any of it. Va-va-vooming is in, tut-tutting out. We've come a long way, in a sense.
"There is this attitude among feminists who say I should have the right to gaze at male bodies the same way men always have done to women's bodies," said Mary Jo Kane, a sports sociologist at the University of Minnesota.
Age matters, too. "It's hugely generational. Things that my generation [she's 61] would have found discriminating and insensitive, the next generation doesn't see it," Kane said. "They embrace it as freedom of expression. When I show photos in class in ways that are critical, [students] say, 'What is your point? They're hot. I wish I had a body like that.'"
Objectifying women and men is hardly a thing of the past. But there's a difference between Sports Illustrated's cheesecake-y swimsuit edition and ESPN the Magazine's current "Body Issue," in which male and female athletes, often nude, are photographed in action, and far from ooh-la-la fashion.
"If it's a means of celebrating their bodies, it's fine," Kane said. "For the athletes, it's having a public venue to expose their very well-crafted and hard-earned bodies. Sports is ultimately about the body and what you can do with your body to achieve success."
That's the age-old athletic ideal. In fact, all those eye-candy-ish postings of Australia's male swimmers might be less something new than something cyclical. In the original Olympics back in Greece's heyday, all the athletes were nude. And all were men.