The Amsterdam Lowlanders, a Netherlands-based rugby team that touts its acceptance of LGBTQ+ teammates, is selling a nude calendar to raise money so its members can compete in an international rugby event next year.

We’ll explain why that 2020 competition is of special significance, but first, let’s look at why this team’s latest calendar is noteworthy.

Not their first rodeo, but this one is different

While lots of groups sell naked calendars as fundraisers, and the Lowlanders have been publishing theirs since 2013— this entry is exceptional for its body diversity, and how that is presented. Alongside “idealized” Greek statues, nude rugby players of various colors and sizes posed with their bodies bearing smears of dust, as if connecting their modern forms to the ancient ones.

“There is no sport as inclusive as rugby. Large, small, muscular, thick, juicy, long, thin: it is a sport where there is literally room for everyone,” says Henri Verhoef, the calendar photographer who is also a team member. “In this calendar, we show that there is no real ideal image. The players are photographed as sculptures that show that there can be strength in vulnerability, and cohesion in diversity.”

“Work in progress ! Here you see Lowlander Henri [Verhoef, seated, center] working hard on the ARC LOWLANDER 2020 calendar (featuring our players in not a lot of clothing 😜)”

The Lowlanders’ calendar is also inclusive of large-bodied athletes of color, a contrast to more mainstream nude sports images — including the ones in ESPN’s annual “Body Issue” — which predominantly feature slender or muscular white athletes, giving the public a limited idea of “what athletes look like.”

That image is changing as more trans, gender non-conforming, older athletes and athletes with disabilities enter the sports world, and more diverse athletes feel comfortable showing their bodies.

Body positivity yields dividends

Such images may be of value beyond fundraising and inclusivity in sports, according to researchers. There is mounting evidence displays of body positivity may literally improve mental health and save lives. A 2019 study of 195 young women found that exposure to body positive images on social media improved their “positive mood, body satisfaction and body appreciation.”

This is important considering that half of LGBTQ youth have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and one-third of LGBTQ adults have felt suicidal about their body image, compared to 11% of straight people.

Why They’re Raising Money: The Bingham Cup

The Bingham Cup is a three-day biennial “World Cup of gay rugby” founded in memory of Mark Bingham, the gay American rugby player who was among the 40 passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. They were killed in the crash of that plane in Pennsylvania, apparently trying to thwart the terrorist hijackers.

The tournament in Ottawa, Canada has become a flagship event of the International Gay Rugby organization and now attracts 1,700 players from 60 different teams in Europe, North America and Oceania. In 2018, the Lowlanders hosted the event, and for the first time ever, organizers added a four-team women’s tournament, reflecting growing interest in the sport.

“At the time of Mark Bingham’s heroic death, only six gay and inclusive rugby clubs existed anywhere in the world,” the Bingham Cup website says. “Today, there are more than 70.”

To find out more about the Amsterdam Lowlanders click here, follow them on Twitter and on Facebook. To learn about their calendar click here, and for the Bingham Cup, click here.