Cha O'Leary

Earlier this month, the Davenport College art gallery launched an exhibit of photographs from the Yale swimming and diving team to celebrate the beauty of women athletes and their bodies.

The exhibit, which opened on Oct. 4, features more than 30 photographs and collages of quotes from Yale swimmers and divers. In an interview with the News, Cha O’Leary ’20, who is the main curator, said she hopes that the exhibit will highlight the strength of female athletes.

“Society has been harsh and overly demanding on women to abide by a certain beauty code,” O’Leary said. “My intention is to celebrate female bodies of all kinds, specifically focusing on female athletes, and to show that beauty is found in every woman. There is nothing more empowering to me than competing towards a common goal with a group of confident, strong and able-bodied women who support each other through everything and I wanted to document that.”

In interviews with the News, members of the Yale swimming and diving team praised the exhibit. Swimmer Raime Jones ’22, who helped curate the exhibit, said the project made her more aware of pressures she and her teammates experience daily.

According to O’Leary, she has been taking photos of her teammates since September. She said she chose to display the photos in black and white to highlight power and flexibility in the bodies of female athletes.

“I followed courses in photography and retained critical skills back in high school,” O’Leary said. “As a freshman I took a first-year seminar called “American History in Photography,” where we studied U.S. history through a collection of photos marking historic events.”

For her part, Jones made three collages of quotes to compliment O’Leary’s work, which were collected using an anonymous poll sent to the team.

In an interview with the News, O’Leary said she also took and displayed photos of her teammates swimming backstroke with their wide smiling faces to highlight the joy and fulfillment one can achieve by competing in sports. Photos in the exhibit also celebrate the collaborative spirit in athletic competitions, O’Leary said.

The collage also features quotes about positive body image. For example, one of the quotes is: “I will not make myself small.” Jones said this quote particularly resonated with her because the muscles and above-average height of female athletes are often not celebrated. But the quote inspired her to feel grounded and comfortable in her own body, Jones said.

“Personally, I have always struggled with the size of my back and shoulders,” Olivia Paoletti ’22 said. “There were two pictures of my shoulders on display in Cha’s exhibit and I can honestly say that it was the first time I was excited about them being shown off rather than being embarrassed by them.”

The art exhibit is located in the hallway between Davenport and Pierson College.


Luna Li |