The thought of someone asking you to strip down and bare it all in front of millions sounds crazy right?
Well it sure did to Houston’s own Marlen Esparza, who won a bronze medal in boxing at the 2012 London Olympic Games, when she was approached to be in the fifth annual edition of ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue.
“I don’t even like to wear shorts in public, so this was a big step,” Esparza joked.
The riveting issue, on newstands now, features 21 big-time athletes in a variety of nude poses, stressing the strength and muscular attributes of each of their diverse physiques and careers.
The mag features NFL ESPY nominee for “Best Breakthrough Athlete” Colin Kaepernick, 77-year-old golfer Gary Player, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings (who was photographed both before and after giving birth to her daughter in April), Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey and others, including Esparza.
“I was approached by someone from ESPN and my first reaction was NO! I didn’t think I could do it or be comfortable, but after speaking to them, I realized they would make me comfortable. I also had to ask my boyfriend and dad for their thoughts and my friends for their opinion. In the end, the good outweighed the bad, so I said yes,” Esparza explained.
While her training and physical regimen is unlike most women, her skepticism and insecurities of her body were right up there with most of us. “I don’t even like to wear shorts in public, so this was a big step,” she joked.
It’s no secret how hard Esparza has trained to get to where she is today and where she hopes to be tomorrow. Having trained hard as a flyweight boxer since 2001, her favorite body parts include her legs and her strong back. “Most girls would hate it [a strong back], but it makes me a better boxer so I appreciate it,” she adds.
“I wanted to show people it’s OK to love yourself and be proud in your own skin.”
Although she got the pre-authorization go-ahead from all the important people in her life (like her dad and boyfriend), Esparza still had a few unsettled butterflies before the mag hit newstands two days ago. “I’m still nervous about my dad. Super nervous actually. Or if my dad’s friends see it, I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable,” she said.
Esparza’s decision to pose for the mag was two-fold. “I wanted to show people it’s OK to love yourself and be proud in your own skin. I also loved the idea that I would be the first Olympic female boxer in the issue. I love being first,” she says with the biggest grin imaginable.
Esparza’s biggest claim to fame thus far is being the first flyweight to represent the US in the 2012 Olympics during the debut of women’s boxing in London last summer.
Ready for what?
The much-anticipated photoshoot took place at Gleason’s gym in NYC. “It was very awkward because I had to bounce around and hit bags nude. At first I posed with a robe, and when the photographer said he was ready, I was like ‘Ready for what?’ We all knew he meant take off the robe but I couldn’t do it right away. Everyone laughed because it took me a few minutes,” the boxer confesses.
“Happiness is a choice, and I would rather have a nice body I work on than a nice body I was born with. You can always improve yourself with hard work.”
It’s no secret posing of this nature in front of so many people took some serious guts, but I asked the Olympian a very simple question – “What would you say to someone who isn’t happy with their body?”
Her even more simplistic answer: learn to be.
“Happiness is a choice, and I would rather have a nice body I work on than a nice body I was born with. You can always improve yourself with hard work. You can’t change everything but you can improve it,” she continued.
And don’t feel bad for staring as ESPN has given you their complete and expressed permission. “It’s OK to stare. That’s what The Body Issue is here for. Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To … well, gawk. So go ahead; join us,” the Mag says on ESPN.com.
You probably won’t be the only one starting either. Esparza admits that if she could choose any athlete to be in The Body Issue, she’d pick Cristiano Ronaldo who plays for Real Madrid. In her own words, “He’s probably one of the hottest guys on earth!” she gushes.
Since putting her clothes back on, the next step for the boxer is another national title and world championship next year.
This article appeared in the Sports section of Culture Map as well as one of their Top Stories. Click here to see the original piece.