A look at where it started and who it features
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was first introduced by editor Andre Laguerre in February 1964 to fill the gap in the lack of sporting events being covered in the month of February. This is questionable considering that during the year of the first publication the IX Winter Olympic Games were occurring in Innsbruck, Austria. During these Olympics about 1,091 athletes were competing in 34 different events; is this not enough for you to write about, Sports Illustrated?
Sports Illustrated has always loved models, but not female athletes. In a study conducted by the Department of Sociology at the University of Louisville, out of the 716 regular issues published between 2000 and 2011, only 35 of them featured female athletes.
The ratio of men to women coverage has not always been this dramatic though. The asymmetrical coverage began when big business became more important than the actual sporting event or story of a player. When this happened, sponsorships and money began to rule the sporting industry and of course the priority started to go to popular men’s sports such as basketball and football.
Valarie Hanson, a student at St. John Fisher College, conducted research on this topic and wrote, “The Inequality of Sport: Women < Men.” Through her research she spoke with professors who were experts on the matter. Sports Illustrated’s biggest downfall is that the “decisions [are] made by men,” said Pat Griffin, former professor at Massachusetts University, in Hanson’s study. Griffin conveyed men essentially rule over the sports media industry and control how much and what kind of coverage women receive.
“A woman who is athletically talented and doesn’t show herself off in a sexual manner represents a ‘butch’ woman, a manly woman for lack of a better phrase,” said Hanson.
Issues such as this are one of the contributing factors that have led to eating disorders becoming the number one mortality rate of mental illness in the United States, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
To combat criticisms of Sports Illustrated’s disregard for athletic women, SI for Women was published. The magazine had a short life, running for only 20 publications due to a lack of investment. Why should sports, which are considered equal according to Title IX, be separated in the media?
But the madness of the magazine does not stop there. For the 50th anniversary edition, Barbie, the doll of choice for so many young girls for over 50 years, was featured on 1,000 covers. Mattel, the toy company that created Barbie, was completely behind this campaign and started using the trendy slogan #unapologetic.
“Barbie claims that her appearance in the magazine strikes a blow for female empowerment,” according to a statement on the Mattel website.
Did Barbie really have a say in her cover image or even the bathing suit she wore?
Not only does adding Barbie to the line-up of models create a bad influence for young girls and allow the magazine to succomb to consumerism, it also insults women athletes as well as other female readers of the magazine.
To combat the unrealistic expectations upheld by the magazine, Kate Upton, a two time cover model of SI Swimsuit, stopped the crazy dieting and decided to embrace her “healthy” body because she was not happy with how modeling for Sports Illustrated made her feel.
“I’m not a toy, I’m a human, I’m not here to be used. I am a grown woman, and you need to figure your shit out,” Upton said to Elle Magazine.
I love the fact that Sports Illustrated celebrates female beauty, and of course women should be able to flaunt what they have. The problem lies within the coverage done by the magazine. They only cover a specific body type while omitting all those who do not fit into their qualifications.
However, Sports Illustrated isn’t completely in the wrong with this year’s Swimsuit Edition. The magazine announced on Feb. 5 that it will feature one plus size model out of the 24 chosen for the magazine. Her name is Robyn Lawley, a size 12 model, and she will be wearing a swimsuit that she designed herself.
“I don’t know if I consider myself as a plus-size model or not,” Lawley said to Time Magazine. “I just consider myself a model because I’m trying to help women in general accept their bodies. ”
Although the average American woman is a size 14, this is still a step in the right direction for the magazine. This is an effort by the magazine to allow more women to feel beautiful in their own skin and not be held to such high expectations. I know that it helped me feel comfortable in my own skin.
Maddison Murnane is a freshman journalism major who knows what beauty really means. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.