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Far be it from me to tell a woman–particularly a beautiful woman, as Beard blossomed into–what to do with her body. As far as I'm concerned, she was well within her rights to pose suggestively in FHM magazine, and then nude in Playboy.
This is a lowlight not because of her actions, but rather because of how the swimming community at-large responded to it.
Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the organization didn't "...feel that that the appearance by Ms. Beard in the July issue of Playboy magazine is an appropriate portrayal of our sport....We strive ... to promote the values of hard work, dedication and teamwork that swimming instills in its young athletes and their families."
Beard always seemed a little uncomfortable with the reputation she got as an American sweetheart after the '96 Olympics, telling Inked Magazine that "I just want to be who I am, and I'm not just your typical all-American swimmer-type of girl."
She might not have wanted to be an "All-American swimmer type," but I doubt she wanted to make enemies out of her swim team, and feminists across the country––a demographic that comprised a large portion of her fan-base.
On top of that, the magazine shoots had a drastic effect on her body image. She told Marie Claire that "...after photo shoots, it's mind-boggling to see the inches they take off, the wrinkles, the little complexion errors. It makes you think, Oh, my gosh, this is what I should look like. So that started to stress me out..."
These insecurities would soon manifest themselves in a very dangerous way.