Before we get into the issue itself (whose cover is contained herein), model Danielle Herrington — only the third black woman to land the cover, the others being Tyra Banks and Beyonce — found out about it via a Top Model style reveal with TyTy herself, and you have GOT to see what Tyra wore. It is both so right, and so crazy. Jessica’s take: “It looks like Gozer the Destroyer from Ghostbusters decided to switch to sweatpants later in life.”
The issue has wrestled with itself a bit recently. Obviously the swimsuits aren’t the point, given that a large number of the models aren’t even wearing any, and SI’s target audience — and I say this as a female subscriber who loves sports — is not the people who might actually want to buy a bikini. For the past several years, a woman has spearheaded it, a fact the magazine trumpets in the face of accusations that the annual boobfest is pointless and porny (“But it can’t be! A woman is in charge,” etc), and that defense comes off chiefly as something to hide behind while they make a bunch of money off something sort of pointless and porny. (But I will say it’s not a shoot where anyone has heard — as far as I know — even a whiff of impropriety or sexual misconduct, and considering the breadth of the project and the sheer number of models and nudity in play, that’s a relief. SI must have its shit locked down tight, and for the safety and trust of those models who are in vulnerable positions, that is a stellar thing.) But, whatever. SI knows its audience, and this is what its audience wants, and the models are willing participants who are also women that have robust careers involving plenty of other types of projects. The issue has done itself a service by including diverse women and body types, often in a way that’s way more progressive than the mainstream women’s mags. Women find strength and beauty of all kinds in its pages, if they crack them, so I don’t have a problem with it — even if I as a human am not personally interested in it.
This year, there’s a chunk in the middle of which SI is apparently very proud, in which a bunch of nude models and athletes pose with words scrawled all over their skin. Per its editor M.J. Day:
It’s part of the magazine’s “in her own words” project meant to “illustrate and give voice to the diversity of the women that we feature in our magazine, to make the statement that they are more than just a beautiful face,” Day said in an interview with “Power Lunch.” Words like “strong,” “truth,” “genuine” and “mother” are written on the models’ naked bodies.
Here’s the thing: My reaction to that mirrors others I’ve since read on the Internet, namely that it more commonly evokes something a serial killer would do, or nasty high school or college-hazing party pranks where you wake up and realize people wrote all over you in eyeliner or Sharpie while you were passed out. And I didn’t love the tone of this comment:
The idea was born before the #MeToo movement “was even a whisper,” she added.
That sounds weirdly defensive and competitive — like, “We were there FIRST, you just didn’t KNOW IT,” or something. It’s possible she was asked about #MeToo and was simply answering a question, rather than actually trying to frame the issue as a piece of what that movement is trying to accomplish. I don’t know. Overall, I get that intentions there were good, but something about this also feels extremely self-congratulatory about something that ultimately accomplishes very little. Yes, women are more than just their faces. But they’re also more than just their bodies, and those bodies are already the lynchpin of the entire special issue. I don’t follow the calculus that suggested the answer here was to show more of them. You can write whatever you want all over their skin, but that doesn’t mean their nudity will be any less on display or that the consumers at which you’re aiming that nudity will pay any less attention to their eroticism. In fact, all you’ve really done is turned them into human chalkboards. Objectification is one thing, but do we have to turn them so completely into props?