Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Sports Illustrated

This is the letter I wanted to write when this year's mailing of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue arrived at my door:

"Dear Sports Illustrated. Please cancel my subscription."

Wait a minute. We'll get to my epiphany in a moment. But I need to give you a little history first.

I began my subscription to SI back when I was a junior in high school. That would be about 1967 — or, more incredible sounding, perhaps, 49 years ago. Subscribing seemed like the logical thing to do back then. I was really big into sports, to the point where I could name most of the starters for all 18 of the major league baseball teams (Eighteen teams? Yeah, I'm old).

I don't even remember getting swimsuit editions back then. The first one was published in 1964, and I think the ones I got were basically special sections found in the regular SI issue. Wikipedia tells me the first swimsuit issue was a mere five-page layout.

I'm not sure when the swimsuit issue became a separate mailing. Probably in the late 1970s, because the models and photo shoot locations had become decidedly more exotic (some might say erotic). I do remember the famous Cheryl Tiegs fishnet swimsuit photos, forever etched in my brain as if fired there with a welder's arc. That was 1978. Etched. Forever.

The real fun came two weeks later when irate mothers and scandalized librarians had their letters to the editor published by the magazine, complaining about the revealing swimwear, about how SI was exploiting women and please cancel my subscription.

What prudes, I thought, chuckling at such prudishness. Remember, I was a hippie-in-training back then. The scales were falling from my eyes.

Fast forward to now, skipping through decades of cancelled subscriptions. We're now in the era of thongs and strategically placed body paint.

There on the cover of this year's Swimsuit Issue — at least, the one I got because there were three regional covers —was a rather large woman cavorting in the surf in her two-piece with everything out there in enormous display.


"Dear Sports Illustrated. Please cancel my subscription" raced through my mind.

Then, almost immediately, came my epiphany. The model, Ashley Graham, had written that her daring photo shoot "...was about my journey of loving my body. I have cellulite. I have rolls. I have all the things you're struggling with right now..."

She was right (well, OK, the cellulite and rolls were pretty much airbrushed away) and my wise, observant inner hippie suddenly kicked in. It's the hippie who says live and let live. The one who says to each his own. It's the hippie with his own bulges, rolls and relaxed fit jeans.

I know many women have self-image issues. So do many men. My own wife recently lost 20 pounds, but she thinks she still needs to lose more, which has me banging my head against the wall. We're all bombarded daily by peers, advertising, glamour magazines and whatnot, defining somebody else's concept of an image for us.

I don't think that's what living your life is about. Those judgments are not ours to make, explained my hippie. The key is not falling for someone else's image for you. The key is feeling comfortable in who you are. And I knew that.

Now, where's the body paint...?

1 comment:

  1. Here is what I sent to Sports Illustrated Editor of the 2016 Swimsuit edition:

    I am writing to you today for 2 reasons. One, I think that your decision to publish various women's body types in your 2016 Swimsuit edition is commendable. However, I continue to take issue with your images of women in "painted swimsuits" and pictures of women without swimsuit tops and barely there "suits." You are continuing the notion that women are sex objects in what I call soft pornography. This is supposed to be an issue of swimsuits!!! Instead of using images of those similar in Playboy shoots, why don't you use women who are wearing appropriate swimsuits that adequately cover women's bodies and accentuate women's various other assets like intelligence, creativity, strength, etc., using real women in our society who display those characteristics instead of Victoria's Secret-like models?

    I know that sex sells magazines but like many other women I have spoken to and read reactions to your issue, we are concerned about the message that it sends, especially to our young people! Again, that is, women as sex objects and not respected for our individual talents beyond that. I saw the video of your Swimsuit editon cover shoots over the years and was much more drawn to the earlier images of women who were appropriately covered in attractive swimsuits. Please consider my suggestions for future Swimsuit editions. While women are constantly struggling to get the respect they deserve, we continue to run into road blocks in the media which set us backwards. It is very discouraging and disheartening to continue to be treated in this manner. Think about it for a moment, how would your wife, or daughter, or niece, or girlfriend feel about being constantly portrayed by the media in this manner?

    Lorette C. Vacchiano