Allison Stokke doesn't want to be your Sex Symbol

Discussion in 'The Mainboard' started by Sterling A, Jul 28, 2016.

  1. Sterling A

    Sterling A Well-Known Member
    Allison Stokke doesn't want to be your sex symbol

    Name a pole vaulter. Honestly, try naming any pole vaulter in history -- any gender, any nationality, any era.

    And, no, not a decathlete -- a pole vaulter.

    Got a name?

    Probably not. But for millions, the image of a photo might have flickered through your mind: that of a young woman standing in a white athletic top, her right arm extended behind her head to adjust her ponytail, her midriff showing, a pole resting across her shoulder. In the photo, which was taken in while she was in high school, Allison Stokke is looking off into the distance, clearly preparing for an attempt.

    The photo was posted in 2008 to a sports blog, along with the following text: "Meet pole vaulter Allison Stokke... Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds."

    Within weeks, dozens of other blogs and message boards picked up the image. Calculating just how many people have seen the photo is impossible. But here's some anecdotal evidence to suggest that number is ridiculously high: the same week the image was posted online, Stokke opened up Facebook.

    She had infinity friend requests.

    The number of requests pouring into her account had broken Facebook's counting mechanism. Or consider this: the week after the photo appeared online, Cindy Stokke went to the neighborhood dry cleaner, where the woman behind the counter looked at her ticket, saw the last name and asked if she was related to the girl in the pole-vaulting picture.

    Yes, that's my daughter.

    Apparently everyone in Korea, where the store owner was from, was talking about the image.

    In the infamous photo, Stokke is competing in a high school meet. She is, in that moment, an athlete, just as she is now. The year the viral photo was taken, she was 17 years old and the best high school vaulter in the country. In the picture, she is strong, her body taut.

    Of course, that's not why the photo went viral -- not really. The image tore across the web because men thought she looked hot. Part of that "hotness" is certainly her strength, her body, which also helps make her a better pole vaulter.

    But let's not kid ourselves: very few people ogling the photo saw Stokke through the athlete prism. They saw sex. Hubba, hubba.

    The picture is like a Rubin vase for sports. What do you see when you look at the photo: a female athlete preparing to vault, or a sexy young woman striking a pose?

    If most people see only sex, even though Stokke was literally in the middle of a competition, and if she does not want to be a sex symbol and really loathes the idea, then how does she continue being an athlete? If society has intertwined those two identities, how does she go about being one without reinforcing the other?

    "I feel like me and that picture are two different people," Stokke says. "I feel it has taken on a life of its own. It's like that picture is my alter-ego and sometimes I feel like I use it for a positive force, and sometimes I just choose to leave it out there and not engage with it."

    What a strange space we launched her into -- and at age 18.

    Stokke is now 27, and she's still vaulting. In fact, last year, the Cal graduate moved from California to Phoenix, where she's training, working under a new coach and surrounded by the very best. She wanted to give herself the best chance to achieve her lifelong dream: making the Olympic team. The Southern California native briefly gave up her sport a few years ago, deciding she needed to move on and get her master's. But she quickly realized she wasn't yet done. She still wanted to try to twist her body over greater and greater heights.

    The USA Track & Field Olympic Trials are in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday. Stokke will be watching from the sidelines, as her 4.20 meter entry mark didn't meet the 4.50m minimum standard, but she'll continue to train and compete.

    It's July of 2015, and Stokke is sitting in the back of a coffee shop in Orange County when the guy at the next table leans into her space. She catches the movement out of the corner of her eye. Her smile freezes; her hand tightens around her café au lait.

    "I couldn't help but eavesdrop," he says, "but were you talking about sports?"

    This summer, espnW is running stories, essays and letters on body image as part of a series called "Love, My Body." Read more from the series »

    She was, in fact. She was talking about why she first started vaulting (she grew out of gymnastics), her years at the University of California (2006 to 2010), the small international competitions in Europe where you rent a car and drive all night instead of paying for a hotel, and about chasing the 2016 Olympic dream.

    Stokke smiles in the man's direction without making eye contact and says: "Yup!"

    He waits for her to say more, then nods, satisfied, as if this is the coolest thing he's heard in a while, then he drifts back into his space.

    Stokke exhales.

    In the months after the picture went viral, photographers would kneel beneath her at meets, shooting upward as she stood on the runway before an attempt. Grown men would send postcards, with handwritten notes, to her home in California -- some of the sentiments were kind; some were not.

    When Stokke vaulted at Cal, the school removed her headshot from its website because men would constantly request a signed copy. And in the years immediately after the image went viral, she would often get asked to pose for pictures with men who couldn't believe they had run into the young woman from that super hot photo on the internet.

    Or with men who really could believe they had, because they orchestrated a meeting, attending the event just to take a picture with Stokke.

    So, no, it's not an overblown reaction if Stokke builds an invisible wall when someone unexpectedly leans into her space. A lot of people have leaned into her space. And she's mostly chosen to stay still -- very still -- and wait for them to go away.

    Bill Frakes for ESPN

    Bill Frakes for ESPN
    Google her name -- it's almost like she didn't exist between 2009 and 2014. "At that point, I wasn't the best vaulter in the country, so why should I be getting that much attention?" she says. "It cut the other way, too, though. I think at some point Cal just decided: 'Don't put anything up about her.' So even if I jumped high or won a meet, they wouldn't put up a picture or article, and that's actually the kind of recognition I would have liked to see."

    Even as a teenager, Stokke recognized her situation as a Catch-22. The attention she had garnered -- coverage by Glamour, offers fromMaxim, calls to appear on The Today Show -- was disproportionate to her athletic achievements. Though she didn't yet have the language for her predicament, she sensed that waiting out the storm would be the best solution for her.

    Some people around her wondered why she didn't seize the moment: accept the spread in Maxim, the modeling contract, fly to New York to appear on the morning shows. Do all of it. After all, who knows if you'll have the chance again?

    But the part never mentioned is that, once someone walks through that door, it snaps shut. Once a female athlete is publicly labeled "beautiful," we offer her the world. But here's the trick: once she accepts it, we tear her apart, say she's exploiting and sexualizing herself. Oh, and we also say that she's not even that good, anyway.

    "I've never seen this viral thing happen to a male athlete who isn't also already the best at what they do," Stokke says. "Yes, male athletes are also hailed for being incredibly attractive, but they're usually top-ranked in the world, too."

    So Stokke kept fighting to become better.

    "I think I saw her grow up faster," says her mom, Cindy. "She saw how the world can be, saw how some people can be really cruel, some people can be great. I think she realized, 'I can't be so concerned about what everyone else thinks; I have to pursue my career and my dream and my sport.'"

    Bill Frakes for ESPN
    Bill Frakes for ESPN
    Stokke is not a victim.

    On this point, she is adamant, almost desperate. She did one print interview when this whole thing happened, with a magazine, and the energy conveyed by the piece was that Stokke was somehow wronged. Truth is: convincing people that unwanted attention from men isn't flattering -- and often also feels threatening -- is difficult.

    Stokke isn't good at being a victim. She's an athlete; she's conditioned to mold herself to become whatever necessary. "If she was going to be in the limelight, it was going to be because she was an athlete, and she knew that was about her looks," says Cindy. "She wanted to be known for her ability to pole vault. That's what she wanted."

    Says Stokke: "At Cal, I wrote about it once for a Sociology class. We were supposed to write about some deep thing that affected you emotionally, and then you had the option to share, or not share and delete it. And I didn't share it. I deleted it. I wish I still had that somewhere, because I think it would be very different now.

    "My response back then, in 2008 -- was I flattered? In some ways, sure. But I was overwhelmed, too. And I think my response to being overwhelmed was to just stay away from it entirely. But now, I'm trying to figure out how to reclaim it and own it and push it in the right direction. And benefit from it -- in terms of fueling my training. And if I try to ignore it, it will take on a life of its own. Which is what I did in college: ignore it. And I lost control of my own story."
  2. Sterling A

    Sterling A Well-Known Member


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    #2 Sterling A, Jul 28, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2016
  3. Moxin24

    Moxin24 Show me that smile
    Staff Donor
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  4. Gtr

    Gtr Guest

    she's a little too chiseled now but tough shit
  5. DuffandMuff

    DuffandMuff Well-Known Member
    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Heh, too late for that now babe. I've already choked the reticulated Python to you.
  6. Larry Sura

    Larry Sura Tuyuq. Fratzy
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    That's a lot of words, thanks for the pics.

    HOOSINSC You're with me leather

    maybe if we ask her real nicely?
  8. Pirasea

    Pirasea Well-Known Member
    East Carolina Pirates

    Thousands of people think you are attractive, what a horrible horrible thing to have to go through.
  9. War Grundle

    War Grundle Nole Mercy
    Florida State SeminolesTampa Bay Rays

    That article isn't written if she is ugly. If she didn't want at least some of the attention she doesn't do the article.
    IV, Caga palo, BamaNug and 1 other person like this.
  10. Watasha

    Watasha Well-Known Member

    "Please don't look at me."

    Chalk that up as one of the dumbest articles from ESPN
  11. 941Gator

    941Gator TMB's resident beach bum
    Staff Donor
    Florida Gators

    Sounds like she should go live in the Middle East for a while.

  12. War Grundle

    War Grundle Nole Mercy
    Florida State SeminolesTampa Bay Rays

    I would love to see her poke vault wearing a burca.
    RU-Omega Potato likes this.
  13. Why?Pokes

    Why?Pokes Surf Wyoming
    Wake Forest Demon DeaconsDenver NuggetsWyoming Cowboys

    In my completely anecdotal experience, pole vaulters are the most narcissistic group of all T&F athletes, whom are themselves extremely egotistical and body-image conscious.

    Doesn't want to be a sex symbol--works out and does photo shoots wearing nothing but booty shorts and a bra. Ok, yeah, sure, that adds up.

    I mean, shit, the sport was invented to celebrate the human form by watching oiled, naked youth run around and wrestle each other.
  14. Whammy Business

    Whammy Business Well-Known Member

    I don't want to be your sex symbol ... but here's a photo spread of me working out half naked.
  15. C A N E

    C A N E Well-Known Member
    Miami Hurricanes

    IV likes this.
  16. xec

    xec Well-Known Member
    Florida State SeminolesUtah UtesReal Salt LakeLas Vegas Golden KnightsPorto

    I just want to see her poke vault. Sounds watchable.
    racer likes this.
  17. dblplay1212

    dblplay1212 Well-Known Member
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    "Please don't look at me, but here's a photo shoot of me half naked for you to look at."

    That's as bad as the Cuban chick in Miami saying she felt violated or whatever bc people were checking out her pics while she continued to post 100 pics of herself a day.
    Prospector, Tiffin and rcragg82 like this.
  18. TLAU

    TLAU Dog Crew
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    She needs to spend a few days looking at Mckayla Maroneys Instagram and the commentary
  19. lhprop1

    lhprop1 Fullsterkur
    Staff Donor
    Minnesota Golden Gophers

    If she doesn't want to be a sex symbol, maybe she shouldn't be so damn sexy.
  20. CraigAnne Conway

    CraigAnne Conway Putting that ball into the basketball ring
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    Jenneke > Stokke anyway
    Tiffin, jokewood and Celemo like this.
  21. lastsonofkrypton

    lastsonofkrypton Man of Steel, Kal-el, Clark Kent,
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  22. Celemo

    Celemo Meatball's Dad
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    Craig Championship likes this.
  23. spagett

    spagett Got ya, spooked ya

    I only looked at the pictures :/
  24. GoodForAnother

    GoodForAnother they don’t allow you to have bees in here
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    Ok fine she's an athlete

    I'd fuck that athlete
  25. AIP

    AIP Spilled the Paint
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    I feel bad for her... it must be tough being so good looking
    Sterling A likes this.
  26. RU-Omega Potato

    RU-Omega Potato Well-Known Member
    Rutgers Scarlet KnightsNew York YankeesDallas Cowboys

    I hope she is stabbed repeatedly by the completely fictional "woman who is so beautiful she intimidates men and is never approached and all she really wants in life is a man who can make her laugh because looks don't matter".
  27. NCHusker88

    NCHusker88 We named our yam Pam. It rhymed.
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    In fairness, Angie Varona was like 16 at the time.
    OopsPowSurprise likes this.
  28. dblplay1212

    dblplay1212 Well-Known Member
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    I could be wrong, but I think she was 16 when people found her but she was closer to 20 when she went on ABC and cried about it. That chick is still posting pics daily.
  29. BiMaleStripper

    BiMaleStripper Well-Known Member

  30. Llama

    Llama New Member
    Nebraska CornhuskersColorado Avalance

    Remember this one?

  31. Doc Louis

    Doc Louis Well-Known Member

    Shows her lifting weights but doesn't show the weight? Not about her working out.

    Also Koreans are an underrated Asian
    Tiffin likes this.
  32. Nandor the Relentless

    Nandor the Relentless Former Leader of Al Quolanudar
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    Sorry honey but you don't get to decide this type of thing
  33. Sterling A

    Sterling A Well-Known Member

    What a time to be alive
  34. BP

    BP Bout to Regulate.
    Atlanta BravesGeorgia BulldogsAtlanta Falcons

    I mean, some of that shit is pretty creepy. Some weird fucks out there.
    Tobias, NothingIsOT, Merica and 3 others like this.
  35. Moxin24

    Moxin24 Show me that smile
    Staff Donor
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    No one white knighting for her yet? Damn MB, you're scaring me.
  36. BiMaleStripper

    BiMaleStripper Well-Known Member

    EHo and Merica haven't posted yet
  37. Degausser

    Degausser Well-Known Member
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    I'm gonna start sex symboling her even harder
    Taffy likes this.
  38. * J Y *

    * J Y * TEXAS
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    She can vault my pole amirite fellas?
  39. Moxin24

    Moxin24 Show me that smile
    Staff Donor
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    I was really looking forward to a, "Fuck you guys, she can wear whatever she wants. That doesn't give you the right to slut shame her" post.
  40. AIP

    AIP Spilled the Paint
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    Vault? You ment to say hop right
  41. thegenerel

    thegenerel Well-Known Member
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    between the combined forces of 4 years at Cal Berkley + ESPNW, we get articles like this.
    steamengine likes this.
  42. BiMaleStripper

    BiMaleStripper Well-Known Member

    Objectifying women is a sign of misogyny you patriarchal shitlord
  43. thegenerel

    thegenerel Well-Known Member
    Pittsburgh PenguinsPenn State Nittany LionsPittsburgh SteelersWest Ham United

    t&p's so that she doesn't develop Vietnam levels of PTSD.
    steamengine likes this.
  44. leroi

    leroi Rival Shark Boat Captain
    South Carolina GamecocksChicago BearsGrateful DeadFiorentinaSoutheastern Conference

    That's a very good point, women never look at pictures of other hot women, like Beyonce or Kim Kardashian.
    Tiffin and Imurhuckleberry like this.
  45. skiedfrillet

    skiedfrillet It's not a lie if you believe it.
    Clemson Tigers

    is that the street fighter theme
  46. BiMaleStripper

    BiMaleStripper Well-Known Member

    How's Abby?
  47. angus

    angus Well-Known Member

    Guess this means there aren't going to be any nudes coming then.

  48. Caga palo

    Caga palo Put my pager on a vibe..cuz a Junky is a Junky 365

    She's grasping for the last 5 mins of fame
    thegenerel likes this.
  49. eHo

    eHo Fan of teams that never win shit and the Seahawks.
    Georgia BulldogsSeattle SeahawksSeattle Mariners

    Always funny to see what she actually says in the article vs. what the posters in this thread are attributing to her.
  50. EdmondDantes

    EdmondDantes Both winner in league and apparently at life, haha
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    just got that old fashioned romantic feeling where i'd do anything to bone her