In case you missed it, this year the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has grabbed some bikinis, some women and the #MeToo movement, and thrown them together in a message of anti-objectification through a vessel of historical objectification.
Sounds silly, huh?
If you ask the magazine’s editor MJ Day, the issue let the models take control of their own shoots in an industry that rarely sees them as anything more than their dress size.
“That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit issue. You have Harvard graduates, you have billion-dollar moguls, you have philanthropists, you have teachers, you have mothers — you have a full range of women represented in the alumnus of this magazine, and not one of them failed because they wore a bikini,” she told Vanity Fair in an interview about the issue.
According to Vanity Fair, Day is trying to “make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.”
“Women are usually confined to one category—like she’s the bombshell,” Day later told Glamour. “But she’s also a mum, a businesswoman, so much more. It’s frustrating.”
Because of this, Day gave the women a little remnant of power back, encouraging them to label themselves in the ways they would prefer to be perceived. In the most literal sense, they grabbed a pen, and wrote the labels across their naked bodies. Robyn Lawley wrote Mother, Nurturer, Lover, Creative. Aly Raisman wrote Survivor.
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More than that, she said the decision to marry the two – a movement on female empowerment and an institution that celebrates the female form – didn’t necessarily come from a post-Weinstein era fixated on how women are portrayed, considered and dealt with both publicly and privately.
“We were having these conversations months ago, before Harvey Weinstein, about how women are perceived in the media, how women are perceived in the workplace,” Day told Glamour. “It was all very conscious.”
While Day’s intentions may be authentic and legitimate and worthy, there’s merit in recognising that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is certainly no public service.
Since it became a stand-alone issue in 1997, the Swimsuit Edition has become “one of Time Inc.’s biggest revenue drivers over the years, bringing in more than $1 billion,” according to Forbes. And that was in 2010, leaving out the millions of revenue raked in since then.
The magazine itself was created in 1964 during a lull in the sporting world during winter, later growing into a yearly, billion-dollar institution that exists almost exclusively for the heterosexual male gaze.
Women would prance around in bikinis for the men who would buy the magazine, and later, into a culture where women were their objects; their value and their currency in the shape of their body and the pout of their lips.
MJ Day, in conjunction with the #MeToo movement, now seeks to challenge pre-conceived notions of women. Both confusingly and curiously, her team are using the oldest pre-conceived notion in the book – a scantily-clad woman worth little more to her male subscribers than the bikini strung over her breasts – to fight every other pre-conceived notion.
That’s not to say the issue should met with more than a furrowed brow and shrugged shoulder.
It just feels like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit team jumped, at the very last minute, on an already moving train, their ideas half-hearted and their concept misguided.
Because if you’re going to make money from a movement that was created because of the way women have been systematically objectified – from Sports Illustrated and beyond – it would be clever to make sure your execution is better than clumsy.
And if you’re going to co-opt the movement for your own gain, be self-aware enough to recognise that as a company who have made money of exploiting a single form of beauty, it’s probably not good enough to continue contributing to a culture that actively encourages women to be objectified, labels on their body or not.