aging · beauty · body image · fitness · inclusiveness · objectification · stereotypes

Martha Stewart, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model

At 81 years old, billionaire and business mogul Martha Stewart is the oldest swimsuit cover model of Sports Illustrated, overtaking Maye Musk, who was the oldest last year at 74.

What can be thought about this development?

On one hand, we can celebrate new gains for representation and inclusion: Martha Stewart has cut through the spandex ceiling, making it possible for “older women” to be cover photo-worthy by Sports Illustrated (SI), a magazine whose annual swimsuit issue authoritatively confers the status of beautiful to its models. As an octogenarian swimsuit model, Martha Stewart brings diverse body image to popular media (and to the news media that reports on popular media).

As well, this development signals a growing acceptance of older women’s sexuality. Martha Stewart has left the kitchen and entered the swimming pool. According to a CBC analysis article, Martha Stewart said on Today that she increased her exercise regime and cut out carbs (but didn’t starve herself) to show that “You can look great at pretty much any age if you put your mind to it.” If Martha Stewart can put her mind (and enormous wealth) towards looking sexually alluring at 81, isn’t that permission for us all?

On the other hand, scholar (and aspiring clairvoyant?) @tracyisaacs might have foreseen Martha Stewart’s gracing of the cover of SI’s Swimsuit issue when she wrote about what she describes as inclusive objectification here at FIFI and in The Conversation. Tracy acknowledges that commercializing the sexual attractiveness of a wider spectrum of women’s bodies seems, on the surface, to be a good thing (or at least not harmful one). However, mainstream media, embodied by the swimsuit issue (pun intended),

“continues to promote sexual attractiveness as women’s main currency. […] (It’s) it’s not clear how the swimsuit issue, the very essence of which is to represent a particular type of sexualized bodies, could morph into something that celebrates the body in a different way.”

From this perspective, it may be said that Martha Stewart has escaped one form of traditional female currency (homemaker) to another (swimsuit cover model). SI has shown us that Martha Stewart is worthy of sex appeal, but nothing has fundamentally changed the “relentless message about what makes women worthy,” as Tracy notes.

The CBC analysis article quotes Anna Murphy, who finds it refreshing that Martha Stewart refuses to “age out of the public eye.” (This is a return to modeling for Martha Stewart). But the SI issue heavily suggests that, in order to stay in the public eye, Martha Stewart must, in her own words, continue to “aspire to look great.”

Let’s also note that Martha Stewart doesn’t look great on her own. The are four covers of the same magazine issue —featuring Megan Fox, Brooks Nader, and Kim Petras, singer and transgender model (perhaps the most interesting and progressive choice). So conventional sexy and controversial sexy can remain in the public eye together.

Author of the CBC article, Jenna Benchetrit, concludes her analysis with an unanswered question initially asked by Tracy: “It’s breaking barriers, yes. But are these the barriers we want to break?” We at FIFI have many diverse voices, so I speak for myself when I (and maybe some of we) say no. Or at least, certainly not only.

Another Jenna, Jenna Peterson, happens to answer Jenna B’s question in a humorously memed social media post. Jenna P doesn’t want to continue to “aspire to look great” as she ages. Jenna P sees “aging out” of sexy as precisely what she wants to accomplish.

“I hate this whole “women can be sexy at fifty!” narrative. At what age will society stop demanding I try to be hot and just let me turn into an old swamp witch, as nature intended.”

As a cis-woman who is just over half Martha Stewart’s age, I’m inclined to agree with Jenna P. Aside from discourse of what is “natural” for women (for instance, it doesn’t matter much to me whether or not Martha Stewart has had body modifications), women can transgress their worthiness via sexual objectification…by letting themselves just get (and look) old.

Perhaps Sports Illustrated might have photographed an 81 year-old, swim-suited Martha Stewart emerging from a witchy swamp? Well, maybe next year.

Readers, what perspective do you take on this issue?

athletes · objectification · Olympics

Winter Olympics and “Smoking Hot Sports Babes”

It’s been awhile since we’ve blogged about the objectification of female athletes, five years in fact. But since it’s the Olympics that post is trending again.

And that’s odd because just yesterday Susan and I were watching women’s snowboarding on television and looking on in awe as Italy’s Michela Moioli won gold in women’s snowboard cross. Such athleticism. Such remarkable young women. So much talent and skill.

Also, aside from ponytails peeking out from under helmets I had to look at the screen and listen to see whether I was watching the men’s or the women’s event.

I briefly allowed myself the thought that one advantage of the women’s Olympic events is that with all the gear sports announcers stay away from comments about the athletes’ bodies. Hah! So naive. So wrong. Silly me.

Even dressed in snowboarding gear that’s that not enough though for some male sports commentators to keep their focus on athleticism and performance.

I was sad to read this in SF Gate.

“After Kim won the gold medal in women’s halfpipe on Tuesday, Barstool Sports commentator Patrick Connor, who also appears on San Francisco-based KNBR, appeared on the “Dialed-In with Dallas Braden” show on Barstool Radio’s SiriusXM channel and made a series of inappropriate comments about Kim.
“She’s fine as hell,” Connor said. “If she was 18, you wouldn’t be ashamed to say that she’s a little hot piece of ass. And she is. She is adorable. I’m a huge Chloe Kim fan.”

Read more about it here.

Connor has apologized. He’s also been fired.

Grrr. Insert the righteous feminist rant here about the objectification of the bodies of women athletes.

What do you think? Are things better worse than they were? Better or worse in the Winter Olympics?

Photo from Unsplash. It’s an image of a snowboarder coming down a hill, most of the person is obscured by a stream of snow.

body image · media

On Thigh Gaps and Photoshop

A couple of weeks ago, it was a Target junior model in a bikini.  Then, it was a plus sized jeans ad for Old Navy.  What did these two have in common: an oddly suspicious thigh gap.

Let’s start with exhibit one, from Target:

thigh gap photoshop target

If that’s not an example of photo altering gone wrong, then I’m doing an Ironman Triathlon this summer!  The other alternative is that this is how the bikini bottom is supposed to fit.  Gee, I hope not.

The image and commentary went viral. A Target spokesperson later apologized for the “mistake”:

“It was an unfortunate error on our part and we apologize,” Target spokesman Evan Miller said to ABC News, adding that the photo had been removed from Target’s website.

I’m curious what, in their view, the mistake actually was?  Was it badly altering the picture in a way that put Target in the running for worst photo shop gaffe ever?  Or were they truly apologizing for the very idea that they would need to add or accentuate a thigh gap on an already slender junior model?

The thing was almost so laughable as to make people pass over the actual harms of this type of thing.  I myself had an eye-rolling reaction more than a blood-boiling one.  But the fact is, on a junior model, modeling bikinis to an already body-conscious demographic, we could use some body acceptance.  We like to make fun of bad photoshopping, but this photo is evidence of a mindset.

The mindset defines what an acceptable body needs to look like in a bikini.  But no one is going to look quite like that in a bikini (thankfully, not so much because of the thigh gap but rather because if your bikini goes down your legs a couple of inches at the inner thigh, it’s not fitting properly.  If you like that look, you can get a boy short. Just saying.).

Okay, on to exhibit two. The plus sized jeans ad from Old Navy:thigh gap old navyThis one is more interesting because Old Navy denied that they altered the photo. What they did do, they said, is pin the fabric back on their body form before taking the picture. According to this report:

In a statement, Old Navy says the thigh gap was not caused by photo manipulation.

“At Old Navy we strive to show our customers the most accurate representation of how product fits the body. This includes pinning garments on body forms to show how they will actually appear. While we do remove these pins in post-production, we do not use any photo-altering techniques to deliberately distort the actual look or fit of our product.”

Sure, but then the question is this (and you’ll have to forgive me if I sound ignorant of the ways of the fashion industry, because I am):  why not have body forms that fit the clothes you’re selling, or model the sizes that fit the body form you’re using?

Somehow the idea of pinning back excess fabric on a pair of jeans to “show how they will actually appear” just doesn’t sound like the right approach. If I have excess fabric somewhere where it’s not supposed to be in my pair of jeans, I assume (and again, I’m no expert) that those jeans don’t fit me properly.  It’s never occurred to me just to pin the excess back. But that’s just me.

And maybe I’m just so jaded or beaten down by the barrage of photoshopped images that come at me every day so fast that I can’t even process them, but I have trouble even getting all riled up any more.  Instead, I’m just weary and a tad confused.  It was one thing when we used actual models with genetics that put their body type out of reach for most of us. But photo shop has taken this thing to whole new lows of unreachability. Real people just don’t look like that. It’s seriously messed up.