A decade after the Warwick Rowers first started stripping down for charity, team members see their mission as more topical than ever before.
The 2019 edition of the Rowers’ now-ubiquitous calendar sees the guys, who are students at the University of Warwick in England, striking nude poses in Italy, Australia and a number of other exotic locales, with their naughty bits obscured by shadows and strategically placed oars.
“In the beginning, I was very self-conscious, a bit worried and a bit intimidated,” rower Lucas Etienne, who is now appearing in his fourth calendar, told HuffPost. “Now it’s normal. I enjoy it, so it’s great.” (Watch some of Etienne’s teammates speak about the calendar above.)
As in previous years, the calendar isn’t meant to simply showcase the athletes’ sinewy bodies in its photos (which appear uncensored below). Proceeds from the project’s sales benefit the Sports Allies Foundation, a U.K. advocacy organization aimed at combating homophobia and gender bias in team sports.
This year’s edition features two-time Olympic athlete Robbie Manson as a special guest star. The 29-year-old, who hails from New Zealand and is openly gay, is the world record holder for men’s single sculling, making him the fastest rower on the planet.
Now sold in 77 countries, the calendar has reportedly raised more than $1 million over the past decade. Though the images feel playfully sexy rather than provocative, however, photographer Angus Malcolm believes the project is still not taken as seriously as he’d like it to be.
“We’re disappointed ... [a lot of people] still think, ’Oh yeah, it’s a bunch of hot guys getting their ass out, getting their dicks out, whatever,’” he said. “We’re fighting, and it’s frustrating. We have important messages that we want to get across. We’re here to make a point.”
For years, that message has been primarily focused on normalizing male-on-male intimacy among both athletes and sports fans, Malcolm has said. Both he and the team felt the current popular discourse about toxic masculinity brought a renewed focus to their mission.
“We’re at a time now when people are really starting to confront male privilege at a very profound level,” he said. “What we’ve realized is that the homophobia we were addressing [in previous calendars] is just one aspect of toxic masculinity.” He pointed to the controversy that happened after Kevin Hart’s history of homophobic tweets resurfaced, leading the comedian to step down as Oscars host. “It shows that there’s a certain sense of heteronormative male entitlement that’s no longer acceptable,” he said. “And for me, that’s made our project more relevant.”
Etienne, for his part, made an aesthetic change this time around by ditching the razor and keeping his body hair mostly intact for the shoot ― a decision, he says, was “very political.”
“I usually shave my body hair for the calendar, and then I realized I was being dictated by an ideal of beauty [created by] celebrities and what have you,” he said. “I think it’s up to people; it’s not up to what we’re being dictated with. Healthy masculinity is being able to have a variety of different things, and for people to be comfortable with it.”
Looking ahead, Malcolm would like to incorporate athletes from other sports in future calendars in hopes of broadening the project’s scope.
“We want to make this project about sportsmen making a statement about how the culture of sports, the culture of masculinity, can be different from how they are now,” he said.