Swimmer’s bodies

For a while last week, most googling I did in which men were involved brought me, as the top hit, an Etsy supplier of framed reproductions of vintage photos, offering this 1952 black and white photo featuring three male competitive swimmers with their trophies:

(#1) We know nothing more — where the picture was taken, who took it for what purpose, what competition they got those trophies in, what school or club they swam for; we wonder how their lives went on after this (if they’re still alive, they’re well into their 80s)

But there’s a lot to see in the photo. Especially in the young men’s facial expressions; in their general male body type, often labeled as swimmer’s body (even on men — underwear models, gay porn actors — who have no particular natatory associations); and in their bodies as engines for swimming as a sport. And also a lot to say about the passage of time since 1952.

Decades. As it happens, the years 19X2 (from 1952 on) were all significant years in my professional life (my personal life was considerably more chaotic). Notes, decade by decade:

— 1952: I became 12 in September, and moved then from grade school to (junior) high school.

— 1962: I graduated from Princeton in June, started MIT in September — the beginning of my career as a linguist

— 1972: after three summer Linguistic Institutes of the Linguistic Society of America in my home institutions (UIUC in 1968 and 1969, Ohio State in 1970), I went on to the 1972 Linguistic Institute at UNC Chapel Hill — as Associate Director, representing the LSA in the Institute’s administration (yes, things happened fast in those days)

— 1982: a year’s fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences ended in June, and I moved on to another Linguistic Institute, at UMD College Park — again as Associate Director

— 1992: well, I was president of the Linguistic Society of America that year

Now it’s 70 years since 1952 and, oh my, a new academic year is beginning; the Stanford Linguistics BOY (Beginning of Year) party happened on Friday. (I’m not physically up to such things, but I celebrate the concept.)

Facial expressions. They could have posed stiffly, with wooden faces, for the photographer. They could have projected dominance, the pride of victory. They could have been wreathed in smiles of delight at their achievement. Instead, all three of them regard us with open, serious but amiable, faces, the corners of their mouths signaling the beginning of little sweet smiles, their eyes exchanging gazes with us. They are competent, nice guys who have done a good thing, and they are adorable.

And the little guy in the middle is the star. (Here I confess that compact little guys are one of My Types. On the other hand, lean muscular rangy guys (like the other two in the photo) are ★My Type★, and that’s because it’s the way my man Jacques looked, so I’m kind of imprinted on it.)

Swimmer’s body (as a physique, or body type). Like Jacques, or like this guy in a JOR Rainbow Pride swimsuit (whose head is out of the photo so you’re not overpowered by his facial expression but have to look at his body as a body:

(#2) Well, yes, his body has been smoothed by digital magic, but the crucial features are all there — including the broad muscular shoulders and substantial but not obtrusive pecs

The favored body type for underwear models, and one of the favored types for gay porn actors — and, apparently, favored on Grindr and other hook-up sites. Echoes of the Greek athletic ideal in there, and a clear relationship to the bodies of actual competitive swimmers (but …)

The ideal swimmer’s body. From Swimming World, “What Makes the Perfect Swimmer’s Body?” by J.P.Mortenson on 8/19/22:

Although swimmers with a wide variety of body types have found success in the sport, most at the international level tend to look similar, sporting tall and muscular bodies – typically with long torsos, long arms and short legs.

Go back and look at the guys in #1 again. The two tall, long-legged, coltish guys on the outside and the shorter one in the middle. They all have broad shoulders (for powerful stroking) and long torsos (putting the center of their body mass near the lungs, allowing for greatly expanded lung capacity), which are V-shaped because of those broad shoulders and the slim waistline of an athlete who burns off an enormous number of calories working against the water. But the little guy has proportionally the broadest shoulders, and his torso is just as long as the other two guys’, though he’s several inches shorter than they are. He is, in fact, close to the swimmer’s ideal.

The Swimming World piece also suggests large hands and feet, which can act like paddles, but I can’t judge that from the photo in #1.

Now, all of this in a champion, 6ʹ3ʺ Ryan Murphy (look, it can’t always be Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte):

(#3) Ryan Murphy’s long V-shaped torso, with gigantic chest capacity (plus the spread-lipped smile) (photo: JD Lasica)

Wikipedia on Murphy:

Ryan Fitzgerald Murphy (born July 2, 1995) is an American competitive swimmer specializing in backstroke. He is a four-time Olympic gold medalist and the former world-record holder in the men’s 100-meter backstroke.

I know, I know, these guys — Phelps, Lochte, Murphy, a few others — look like they were differently dimensioned by nature, and to some degree that must be true; there are no exercises that will lengthen your torso or your arms or make your hands and feet bigger. Then the rest is fierce motivation and hard training.

Meanwhile, I note (as I do regularly) that there’s a lot to be said for just doing things well and gaining satisfaction, even joy, from that. Even if you don’t get a trophy.

One Response to “Swimmer’s bodies”

  1. Bill Stewart Says:

    Here is a link full of enticing things to put onto that lusty body: https://thelockerroomjock.com/collections/brief

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