The Swimsuit Edition, Where Sexism Knows No Size

Apparently we’re all supposed to celebrate the fact that an average-sized woman will appear in this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

I’m told it’s some kind of triumph that, of the many women pointlessly objectified on the pages of a magazine that’s supposed to be about sports, one will be somewhat heavier than all the others. Sexism is so deeply woven into the fabric of sports in America that this, incredibly, is meant to represent progress.

Never mind that this year’s cover model, in addition to being exactly the size you’d expect her to be, is also waxed to within an inch of her life. Never mind that only average-sized model in the magazine appears not as part of an editorial layout but in an ad. Never mind that both women appear to have been liberally airbrushed, unless you believe neither of their bodies has a single stray hair, birthmark, stretch mark, hint of cellulite or uncommon feature of any kind.

Seriously, never mind any of that. Because those details only serve to distract from the real problem, which is that the swimsuit edition exists at all.

It. shouldn’t. exist. It never should have existed in the first place, and it certainly shouldn’t continue to exist in the second decade of the 21st century. Yet it continues to roll off the press every year because SI refuses to depart from the grand sporting tradition of presenting women as props for men to ogle.

Soft-core porn has its place in the world (as does hard-core porn, for the record). Actually, it has thousands of places. You can’t surf the web for 10 minutes without stumbling across at least a few pictures of young women in various states of undress, and that’s without even trying. Prefer to go lower tech? There are plenty of books, movies, television shows and live venues serving up every kind of sex you can imagine and more than a few kinds you probably can’t. And of course there are magazines – so, so many magazines – devoted entirely to the purpose of aiding in male masturbation.

Sports Illustrated is not supposed to be one of those magazines. You can tell because it isn’t called “Playboy” or “Hustler” or “Juggs” or “Barely Legal” or “Men Only” or “SCREW,” but is rather called “Sports Illustrated,” indicating an editorial focus on sports. I don’t know a whole lot about Juggs, but I’d guess that if each year one edition of Juggs broke from the usual format to focus on, say, interior design, Juggs subscribers might not be entirely delighted. If they wanted to read about interior design, after all, they could subscribe to House Beautiful; they subscribe to Juggs because they want to look at pictures of breasts. That’s how it works: Juggs for breasts, House Beautiful for interior design, Sports Illustrated for sports. Simple.

Still, Sports Illustrated ditches sports once a year to proudly present a semi-sanitized version of Juggs. At this point, the powers that be at SI know better. They’ve heard from frustrated readers who want to read about sports – and only sports – in a sports magazine, and from those who are angry about the message the swimsuit edition sends: Namely that women, for all our progress as athletes and fans and journalists and full-fledged members of the sports world in nearly every area, are still primarily viewed as objects in that world rather than as people.

I suspect that even within the Sports Illustrated power structure there are those who would like to ax their annual glossy tribute to sexism, but lord knows every time the matter comes up in public there’s a very vocal gang of bros and would-be bros who shout and whine and all but rend their garments at the thought. SI doesn’t want to lose subscribers, and when the goal is retention then it’s always safer to maintain the status quo. So instead of angering what it perceives to be its base, arguably the nation’s most prominent sports magazine pauses once a year to print up a jerk rag and promote it as some kind of sacred tradition.

Worst of all, bunches of other media outlets buy into it. Newspapers and magazines profile the newly-minted cover model, TV shows offer behind-the-scenes looks at swimsuit edition photo shoots and, of course, we get breathless exclamations across the internet of “it’s about time!” when an average-size woman finally gets to be seen and not heard right along with her skinnier sistren.

It’s got to go, along with all the other “traditions” in sports that dehumanize women. The swimsuit edition, pro cheerleaders, ice girls, ring girls: Every time a team, league or media outlet uses women’s bodies to sell otherwise unrelated products, the message goes out that straight men are preferred customers and everyone else is just lucky to be allowed in.

To say that including an average-size model in the swimsuit edition ‘isn’t enough’ would be to dangerously miscast the situation. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a step in the right direction; on the contrary, if it tricks people into thinking the swimsuit edition is becoming progressive (and, unbelievably, it seems to be having that effect on some) then it will do far more harm than it could possibly do good. Want to see real progress? Find a way to make men understand that leering at women, regardless of size or shape, is not a sport.


244 thoughts on “The Swimsuit Edition, Where Sexism Knows No Size

  1. hi melissa. sry, my comment was meant to be sarcastic… that the so called progress is not progress… whatever… maybe my sarcasm was lost in translation as i am not a native speaker

  2. That model is a gorgeous woman, but let’s be honest… she’s not really that big. Not really. I don’t know when, but hopefully the time will soon come where this issue of the magazine is not needed. We can keep hoping 🙂

  3. We live in a society which is obsessed with two things – violence and eroticism. It would be ok, if it was not regulated by the corporations. It is a clear exploit of the human psyche, and constantly attacking our sex drive is something that should have been thought before allowing such an aggressive marketing of “normality”, which is no longer normal at all. The fact that you, for example, like reading books and eating pastry should not put you in any predetermined position.

  4. I agree so much, I don’t even know what to write I just thought I would say. I mean I had a smile on my face the whole time because it was so true and it really expressed how many people feel (me included). Good writing as well 😊

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  6. So why can’t we all protest these despicable things? Start locally at your neighborhood department stores. Call and complain! Get others in your community to do the same. You guys, this filth is raping the innocence of children. It destroys marriages. It makes people have an obscure viewpoint on reality! MEDIA promotes this, yet no one is speaking out against it… We have really got to stop passing the buck and thinking someone else will tame care of these problems. We must take care of these problems. We are the future generation that will be setting the example for tomorrows youth! The hippie-era is in charge now, and look at what’s happening!

  7. The thing is, these women had the option of standing up and saying ‘no’ to modelling in the magazine. They knew they were going to be objectified and airbrushed and I don’t see any of them standing up and speaking out against this sexism. It’s the models choice to model. It’s a man’s choice whether to read it or not. I can’t say I’m a fan of these kind of magazines. I recognise the sexism however the girls are obviously willing to be objectified because of one factor: money. It’s all about cash, at the end of the day. If those girls said ‘nope, I’m not doing the shoot because it’s sexist/objectifies women’, and if they ALL said that, then I think they’d stop publishing the magazine. But as long as women are prepared to exhibit themselves like that, as OBJECTS, for money, the magazine will continue.

  8. This was a great piece on the fact that an “average sized” woman being featured is not enough to get rid of the overarching problem. Wonderfully put. I hadn’t thought about this before. I am also left wondering if these women are even involved in sports in any way or if they have typically “sporty” bodies or are simply more Victoria’s Secret Models. I am curious because I wonder that this is adding even more to the sexism in sports and the marginalization of women’s sports as the lesser sport. Maybe if they are athletes this adds to that as women’s sports become only beneficial and popularized when those athlete’s bodies are objectified?

    Very thought-provoking! Lovely blog!

  9. Boy are you not going to like this. First of all there is not a shortage of women willing to pose in these periodicals. Second of all the women who participate as athletes and pose as they wish are healthy tone specimens of our species. Some participate in sports that require strong heavier bodies, others much less so. Yes, males will look at female bodies but women also look at male bodies. Some folks like tall, some short, some tiny slim, some as big as they come. Anyone making judgements on how people are perceived most likely are in love with themselves, or wish they looked like the objects of their disdain. Notice please that I do not differentiate between the sexes. Clean your backyard before you look behind others houses.

    • At no point do I say men shouldn’t look at female bodies, nor to I criticize women for their varying body types. In the future please read the piece before commenting.

      • Having looked the piece over, I do admit to missing the primary intention of the article. Please forgive a mere male for anticipating the intent rather than taking the time to fully understand the womans point of view. I truly beg your pardon. 🙂

  10. Lisaerin needs to realize what feminism means instead of knocking it. Every woman, every HUMAN, should be a feminist because it’s all about equality and believing that all humans have the right to do what makes them happy and be treated equally. It’s humanism, the word feminism makes people think of it as negative. It’s not man hating, it’s not women are superior…sure there are always going to be extremists and maybe that’s why Lisaerin had such things to say. But those people aren’t true feminists. They are misandrists, the gender opposite of misogynists.

  11. And as for the comments about men not complaining about the ads showing scantily clad men…well those ads are for selling products TO men. Just as VS is selling underwear to women. I have no complaints about underwear ads. I do agree with all that you’ve said about the objectification of women, including on magazines and that it’s time to change. Also, it’s different because women can feel threatened when treated as an object by a man whereas men don’t feel the same threats; many would probably be flattered (and yes some women get flattered by this as well). It does come down to a matter of how men and women think and what we’ve been raised knowing, doing, taught, and what life experiences we have had. On a sort of related note to lead up to what I’m trying to say, I hate gender stereotypes. I love dressing up and using makeup, but that’s not all of who I am. I also like science. I don’t want to be held to stereotypes even if I embrace one or several of them as a part of who I am. But the differences between men and women that once created these inaccurate gender roles may also be what makes a man feel like he isn’t doing something wrong when he is. Without meaning to, he may be insulting and threatening a woman. We can only see things as we perceive them in our own minds until we are shown and taught others’ points of view.

  12. Agreed. Unfortunately, sex sells and young girls and boys fall into the social trap. I have the same gripe about our local surf magazine.

  13. The women in SI make a decision about participating in their own ridicule. They had a choice. It is disingenuous to harp at SI. One hand can’t clap.

  14. I’m late to the party and probably repeating what someone else has already said but sexism will always win until we begin to lovingly, patiently, and persistently teaching our children not to objectify and not to be objectified. We fail miserably at equality as well. “No, that’s a girl toy” and “Baseball is for boys, why don’t you try out for cheer?” We treat girls like divas and teach boys to be tough. We contribute to the inequality and perpetuate sexism by what we teach our children without even realizing it. Then we piss and moan about the problems with society. The solution starts with us, in our hearts, in our homes, and in our children.
    🙏Love and Wisdom to you,
    my Brothers and Sisters💖

  15. Well said! I think the SI swimsuit addition needs to go. However, I never even hear about SI except for the swimsuit addition. It’s tough going these days for magazines.

  16. Such a great piece! The swimsuit edition is just plain wrong. Not only does it dehumanize women, but it sets completely unrealistic body expectations, and standards. No one is perfect, and I wish the media would stop trying to say otherwise!

  17. Pingback: Response to Swimsuit Edition, Where Sexism Knows No Size, and Why Porn Is Unfair to Men and Women | KassaFrass

  18. I am not a Sports Illustrated reader however your post is quite interesting to me because I feel like that is eventually how everything that we have come to accept know and love, slowly morph into a sex symbol of sorts. They say sex sells but I think that’s because not very many people challenge that belief. Kudos to you for calling out what you see

  19. Let’s not forget women allow this,.. Models are paid enormous amounts of money,… Self worth shouldn’t be about what’s on the outside,.. Beautiful women struggle the same as any other,…I agree so much and just about everything seems to be about sex,… As a society we need to instill values that have so much more meaning,.. Starting with how we treat one another.

  20. This is awesome! There should be so many more people wondering not why models are insanely skinny, but why women are objectified at all, let alone in places where it makes no sense!

  21. The thing is “sex sells”. This is not only about SI, I do have trouble as a woman to understand why women would like to see a half-naked or dirty-staring woman in a supposed-to-be-a-women’s-magazine. Sexism is everywhere sadly in movies in TV in ads….

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