This week, Sports Illustrated announced the cornerstone of its 2018 swimsuit issue — a spread, called “In Her Own Words,” comprised of nude models and athletes posing with “empowering” words all over their bodies. The spread, according to editor MJ Day, was inspired by the #MeToo movement.
“It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they choose to present themselves,” she told Vanity Fair.
That’s all well and good, but doesn’t a nude photo shoot in a magazine kind of negate that?
The swimsuit issue, or any issue of Sports Illustrated, for that matter, has never and will never be expected to be the forum where we hash out issues of sexual harassment.
It has always existed for one sole reason: to pedal photos of half-naked chicks in bikinis to heterosexual men under the guise of athleticism. The swimsuit issue is Sports Illustrated’s one foray a year into Hustler and Playboy territory.
“On the short list of American media institutions invented to take commercial advantage of the male gaze, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues surely ranks in the top-three, mostly-safe-for-work division,” writes Erin Vanderhoof in the Vanity Fair profile.
So let’s not get confused with what we’re dealing with.
Given the spotlight on the sports industry during the #MeToo movement (child molester Larry Nassar received his third criminal sentence just two days before news of the swimsuit issue hit), it would make sense that the brains behind the magazine would want to acknowledge sexual harassment in some way.
This nude shoot, however, is the wrong way to do it. While they get snaps for using an all-female crew on it, the photos and the motivation behind it acknowledge the problem without recognizing Sports Illustrated’s part in it. Day and her team refuse to turn the mirror on themselves and think about how their swimsuit issue contributes to a society where women are objectified, and how that leads to harassment.
Day herself admitted the magazine’s overall reluctance to changing what the swimsuit issue is fundamentally about. “These are sexy photos,” Day told Vanity Fair. “At the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening. We’re Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.”
And that right there is the issue. You can’t have a nude photograph, haphazardly connect it to a larger movement where it doesn’t belong, and call it progressive. You can’t pat yourselves on the back for addressing the fact that there is a cultural shift happening without acknowledging your part in it.
Instead of this year’s Swimsuit Issue, I would have much rather seen an issue dedicated to fully-clothed athletes talking about their experiences with harassment in the industry. Is there an interview with even one woman or girl whom Nassar molested? How about the dozens of women athletes who experience harassment and abuse every day? Wouldn’t a photo of Sailor Brinkley Cook (daughter of Sports Illustrated alumnus Christie Brinkley) actually participating in her art instead of posing nude with the word “artist” sprawled across her arm promote your messaging a little better?