Sexy Sports Illustrated Hijacks #MeToo: Thumbs Down on the Result

SI Model Robyn Lawley.jpeg

Six years I reported on sports such as baseball and basketball at Sports Illustrated. Those six years the SI Swimsuit issue was published in mid-February. Still is. Gotta snap the men out of their winter doldrums. No more NFL where they can watch men crack heads, in the week after the Super Bowl the nearly naked women issue appears. Well, a man can go ice fishing for so many winter weeks. Heck, it's what men want, its sales and focus groups tell them – time to serve up gorgeous women wearing less and less of bathing suits as each year goes by.

This year, at least, in one section, they've dispensed with bathing suits altogether.

So along with nudity, Sports Illustrated is parading the fact that for first time ever both bosses in charge of this issue are women – the editor and the photographer, also a first.

By the way they are marketing this year's issue, you'd think #MeToo linked arms with a different kind of female empowerment. All the while the editor is assuring men that no matter what's up with women they can count on SI to serve up "sexy" images.

So how are the 2018 reviews? 

"Spectacularly Silly" – The New Yorker

"Ridiculous?" – Fashion

"the first shoot in which 'models were as much participants as objects' – Vanity Fair

The opening words of Vanity Fair's dive into this 2018 issue:

On the short list of American media institutions invented to take commercial advantage of the male gaze, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue surely ranks in the top-three, mostly-safe-for-work division. One could be forgiven, then, for thinking that the staff of the issue were reconsidering their efforts last fall as #MeToo trended, stories about sexual harassment consumed news cycles, and audiences thought more deeply about the ways their media and entertainment were made—and who was making them. It turns out the issue’s staff had already been on their way to rethinking all of it. Editor MJ Day and her core team, comprised of all women, had decided as early as last spring to try in 2018 to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.
— Vanity Fair

Let's pause to consider the word "objects."  Really? SI sees its models as much as objects as participants? Sounds about right. Can we agree that the women are objectified. I know some argue that being nude or nearly nude in these magazine spreads so men can ogle their bodies is an act of empowerment. I'm not in that camp; one reason I'm not is how often some of the same male sports fans objectify women who broadcast and write sports – undressing them on Twitter et al. with descriptions and threats that strip them of their humanity.

The consequences of inhabiting an objectified body are, in many ways, what #MeToo is all about, and there’s something spectacularly silly, not to mention tone-deaf, about Sports Illustrated fighting fire with fire. The ‘In Her Own Words’ shoot got a predictable amount of flak on Twitter; it seems that removing models’ remaining scraps of clothes in the name of empowerment has not been widely taken in the liberating spirit in which it was intended.
— Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

In trying to "mirror" the #MeToo movement on their model's bodies, SI explained its mission this way; they are "allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves." Yet, as editor MJ Day assured its predominantly male audience for this annual post-Super Bowl issue, this issue is “always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”

Again, a word check:  "Allowing" this to happen? Perhaps, a wiser word choice would be "enabling" if this is such an empowering act. 

Perhaps all of this explain why on the brink of Sports Illustrated's sale to Meredith, Time Inc. announced the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises. Here's how New York Post greeted with this news:

Sports Illustrated is going into the modeling business

.. the launch of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Enterprises, a branding and licensing venture announced this week by the Time Inc. title, which hopes to turn the popular swimsuit issue that hits in mid-February into a year-round enterprise to offset declines in SI’s print ad business.
— The New York Post
Si Calendar.jpeg

Meet SI's 2018 Swimsuit Calendar. Stay tuned for more as the year moves on. My hunch is that this is one part of SI's "editorial" content that won't be tampered with by Meredith.