February 10, 2010

In Defense of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

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Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated released what is arguably its most popular and anticipated issue of the year –– the 2010 Swimsuit Issue (that I witnessed being edited!). Originally designed to fill the void that is the sporting calendar during the winter months, the swimsuit issue has been a source of controversy ever since its inception in 1964, with feminists proclaiming, “the Swim­suit Issue promotes the harmful and dehumanizing concept that women are a product for male consumption.” To paraphrase, they find it objectifying.

In an effort to prevent further backlash, S.I. subscribers now have the option of declining the swimsuit edition. The truth be told, I’m not one of them. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply because my secret (or not-so-secret … anymore) fantasy in life is to be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model –– all 5-5 of me. No, I support the swimsuit issue for various reasons –– the first being that S.I. has finally gotten right, what the fashion industry has continued to get wrong: the nature of physical attractiveness.

For years now, I’ve tuned into Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, The Hills and other shows that, more than anything, provide a behind-the-scenes look at New York Fashion Week as well as the other über-exclusive shows and events that dictate a designer’s social calendar.

These shows have one thing in common –– besides the avant-garde couture –– and that is the malnourished condition of their models, all of whom are emaciated to the point that you wish you could force-feed a donut down their throats. Or at the very least take them to a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Skinny is good. But skinny to the point that one’s entire ribcage is as visible as The Situation’s eight-pack in an episode of Jersey Shore? Not attractive. (Disclaimer: after consulting a number of male friends on this matter, I feel entitled to make sweeping generalizations like the one above). More importantly, however, it’s not healthy.

It’s no secret that eating disorders are as prevalent in the modeling industry as four-inch stilettos, yet nothing is being done to remedy this truly unfortunate situation (applying the Webster’s definition here). It especially doesn’t help matters when one of fashion’s most accomplished veterans, Kate Moss, reveals in an interview that her personal motto is “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

… Which brings me to why I applaud Sports Illustrated. Not only are the magazine’s models “smokin’ hott” (again, quoting the guys on this one, but even I’d have to agree), but they actually … eat. More so than that, they are encouraged to eat!

According to 2009 cover model (and on-again girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio) Bar Refaeli, “They tell you you better not go on a diet before the shoot. … And they just let you eat all the time.”

Model Julie Henderson echoed this sentiment: “They were like, ‘You’re too skinny. Start eating cheeseburgers.’ They’re like, the bigger the boobs, the bigger the butt, the better.”

I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more appealing profession.

Sometimes, the editors even solicit actual athletes to appear in the magazine. Never mind that they are typically all blonde, Russian tennis players with last names ending in ­“-ova.” That, or Danica Patrick, if we’re counting her as an athlete.

Additionally, I admire the S.I. swimsuit issue for its uncanny ability to bring beautiful people together, such as my favorite celebrity-athlete power couple –– Andy Roddick and S.I. model Brooklyn Decker (who happens to grace the cover of this year’s issue).

The story goes that Andy had his agent track down Brooklyn’s number after she appeared in the 2007 edition. Now, on the surface this might seem a bit, well … sleazy. But in reality, it’s not so different from life here at Cornell. At least in my experience, I’ve never been asked out on the basis of my witty columns or thorough coverage of the men’s basketball team (what up No. 22 — sorry, couldn’t resist). No, physical attraction most definitely plays a major role when it comes to courtship, as it should. (Admit­tedly, this might go a long way towards explaining why I’ve never had a really substantial relationship). But that’s as far as I’m going to venture with my attempt to compare the trials and tribulations of college romance to an issue of Sports Illustrated. Just know that the effort was there.

As it turns out, in August of 2008 Andy did in fact “put a ring on it,” to quote Beyoncé –– a one-time S.I. cover model herself. Now if only Leo would take a hint.

Lastly, the question must be asked: where would I look for inspiration when it comes time to buy new bikinis, if not S.I.? Vogue? I’m 20 for heaven’s sake, I still have at least 15 years before I need to turn to Vogue for fashion advice.

In conclusion, here’s to swimsuits, sand, body paint, airbrushing and — just for good measure — more borderline-awkward photo shoots in my future that at least permit me to eat a cheeseburger beforehand.

“Objectifying,” the feminists say? If anything, I’d call it empowering.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown