Every time the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue makes the news, I am newly and naively amazed that it still exists at all. In 2017 it made the news because it included a 63 year-old Christie Brinkley in a red bikini. I got on my high horse about that here: “Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off so can anyone, right?”
That same year everyone applauded SI for including Hunter McGrady, whose fulsome curves defied the usual Swimsuit Issue body-type. Her inclusion was celebrated as a “breath of fresh air,” and I wondered whether anything having to do with the SI swimsuit issue is really a breath of fresh air. I don’t really think so, even if Hunter McGrady claims to be doing this not just for herself, but “but for every woman out there who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body and who wants and needs to know that you are sexy.” The same issue also included Serena Williams, a world-class athlete, to “prove” (to whom?) that a woman can be both sexy and athletic.
So this year we have a kind of repeat of all those themes — you can be curvaceous or in your seventies or have an unexpected “background” (their code for race or for ethnicity) and still we want to objectify you as a sexual object in one of our most popular issues of the year!
The editor in chief of this issue, MJ Day, doesn’t put it quite like that of course. Day says:
“We all deserve the chance to evolve. So in this issue, we encourage readers to see these models as we see them: multifaceted, multitalented—and sexy while they’re at it. The world may label them one way, but we want to focus our lens on all the ways they see themselves and how they own who they are. No matter your age, whether you’re a new mom, partner, sister, entertainer, athlete, entrepreneur, advocate, student, mentor, role model, leader or dreamer—or all of the above—we want to celebrate these women, their evolution and the many dimensions of who they are.”(from https://swimsuit.si.com/swimnews/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-2022-cover-models-kim-kardashian-ciara-maye-musk-yumi-nu)
But in the end, despite all of their many dimensions and talents, these women are just reduced to their sexy-factor. I should note that I am not opposed to sexiness. I and several of us from the blog have been open about our boudoir photo shoots. What gets me with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the context. This is a magazine historically designed by men for men. And its main purpose is to cover sports news. What, I ask, do women in swim suits have to do with sports news and for whom are they striking sexy poses? If they want to do it “for themselves” they can do a boudoir photo shoot.
Instead of celebrating the objectification of an ever more inclusive range of women, I can’t help but thinking a more positive step for women would be getting rid of the swimsuit issue altogether. I don’t know any women who would mind one bit, but I predict a huge outcry from the men who look forward to this issue and a subsequent loss of a sure-thing revenue item for Sports Illustrated. As long as we are willing to get on board with the objectification of women for an audience the vast majority of which is straight and male, to celebrate it as something empowering for women, and to congratulate it for “breaking barriers,” we are going to be stuck promoting that idea that women — all women — need to be sexy-to-men to be acceptable. Surely we can promote inclusion without having to piggy back on that relentless message about what makes women worthy.