Tuesday, February 16, 2016

As for that supposedly groundbreaking "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue: Don't believe the hype!

Want to really be groundbreaking, SI? Put some
men on the cover in such provocative poses!
I don't know what's more obnoxious: having the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition shoved down my throat each year. Or now having this retrograde publication getting all this positive press for being "empowering" now because they put MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and plus-size model Ashley Graham on separate versions of the 2016 cover. "History in the making" is what the magazine touts itself as doing. Oh, please. Spare me.

The SI swimsuit issue has bugged the heck out of me since I was a kid. I grew up in a house with two brothers who were big sports fans, and I got into sports from a very early age myself. So we always had Sports Illustrated in our house. If you were a child of the 70s or 80s, and you cared about sports, you pretty much had to subscribe to SI.

But I also grew up seeing the sexist Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue every year as well. And it would be a slap in the face to me and every other female sports fan who read the publication. A reminder that if you were a girl who cared about sports, pretty much the only women you'd ever regularly get to see in the magazine were sexy models whose only sport was taking their clothes off. And it was also a reminder that as much as I enjoyed reading SI to keep up with sports, the magazine wasn't really meant for me and the rest of my gender.

Look, I have no problem with guys wanting to see pictures of women wearing swimsuits (or much less). My issue with it is that this is in a sports magazine that not only seems to ignore that it does have female readers, but it never objectifies men in the same way as they do women.

And it's not just the swimsuit issue when it comes to SI. Look at the provocative Serena Williams cover, with her legs spread, when she won the 2015 Sportsperson of the Year cover. I defy you to find any Sportsman of the Year cover showing men in such a sexual pose. (An aside: Yes, I know Williams obviously agreed to the cover. But that still doesn't make it right.) 

It's 2016, and the swimsuit issue seems sorely out of date. So what to do? The magazine could have stopped running the issue (not bloodly likely, given how much money they make out of it.) Or they could have gone ESPN's route, and featured men as well, the way ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue does. At least with that issue, not only are both men and women of all ages and body types treated equally, but the focus is more on muscles and what the body can do, and not just titillation. And the ESPN issue's pictures frequently have a sense of humor that is sorely missing from SI.

But instead, Sports Illustrated has tried to act like it's now some pioneer for women in having a so-called "curvy" model on the cover. (Which goes to show, yet again, why curvy is a dumb euphemism for overweight. Because being curvy has always been a job requirement for SI models!) And Rousey in a "swimsuit" made of body paint. Would they do the same to David Beckham? Tom Brady?

MJ Day, the magazine's assistant managing editor, said that these covers showed that "beauty is not cookie cutter." Except that it is, because they won't show the beauty of men in their issue. What's up with that?

Day also described Rousey as the "perfect combination of beauty, brains, brawn and humility." Huh? If you know anything about Rousey, she has about as much humility as Kanye West does. That's precisely what helps makes her an interesting fighter.

At any rate, don't believe the hype. SI's swimsuit issue is still about objectifying women by showing them in as little clothing as possible, while men are never exploited in the same way. Just because the magazine has expanded the types of women who are in the issue doesn't make it any less retrograde. Want to be really groundbreaking, SI? Put some sexy men on your swimsuit cover. Make your male readers have to squirm for a change.

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