You know that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? The most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has proven exactly what that means. By featuring size 16 model Ashley Graham on its cover, the magazine supposedly made a bold statement. It showed that beauty comes in all sizes, or at least in sizes other than thin. As a full-figured gal myself, I have long wished that magazines and other media would stop exalting tiny, skinny women. And I applaud Sport Illustrated for trying.
But really, I cringe when I see the photos of Graham sprawled by the ocean, back arched, head lolling, her position suggestive and seductive. This is not what I had in mind when I wished for inclusion. To be fair, Sports Illustrated gave its thinner models the same salacious treatment. So it could be argued that the magazine exploits all its swimsuit models equally, regardless of size.
I take no comfort in that. Yes, bigger women can be as attractive as others. I would even venture to say that there are at least as many full-figured women as petite ones in this country; and therefore we should be featured in ads, television shows and more.
But being welcomed into a group that is objectified and exploited is not the answer. It simply validates objectification and exploitation. And what Sports Illustrated does with its annual swimsuit issue is a sham. In 55 issues a year, the magazine features quality, in-depth reporting and stunning photography. Then for one week in February, the gloves and pretty much everything else comes off, as the magazine shifts into soft-core porn mode.
How can they get away with this? This being America, quite easily. According to Business Insider, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition sells between 10 and 15 times as many copies as its regular issues. Customers demand T & A, publishers publish T & A. And if the T’s and A belong to a full-figured woman, so be it.
Okay, so the decision-makers at Sports Illustrated made an effort to be inclusive, and that’s a step. I’m just not sure it’s one they made in the right direction.
With a Perspective, I’m Linda Gebroe.
Linda Gebroe lives in San Francisco.