Friday 24 May 2019

Sports Illustrated's 'empowerment' issue is nonsense - there's nothing feminist about hyper-sexualising women for pleasure of men

'Sports Illustrated' will fool no one by claiming its new-look Swimsuit Issue empowers women, writes Sophie Donaldson

Let it lie: Paulina Porizkova poses for ‘Sports Illustrated’
Let it lie: Paulina Porizkova poses for ‘Sports Illustrated’
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Despite the below-freezing temperatures some shops have already begun touting their springtime wares. It is still far too cold to consider exposing the lower part of the calf, let alone stripping off for a new season swimsuit.

If your beach body is still indiscernible from your silly season body, then steady yourself: the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will be unleashed upon us this Tuesday.

If the thought of putting on a bikini seems ill-timed, then the release of a lauded soft-core magazine seems unapologetically out of touch.

To minimise damage, ahead of its publication the magazine is on a mission to ensure that despite still existing solely for male consumption, the Swimsuit Issue is here to empower women.

It has released snippets from a photo shoot due to appear in the upcoming issue, titled In Her Own Words. The moody black and white spread features completely naked models posing with words of their own choosing scrawled on their bare flesh - 'Truth', 'Artist', 'Feminist', 'Mother'.

The magazine has gone to great lengths to point out that the female photographer, Taylor Ballantyne, was assisted by an all-female crew.

To drive home the point that this photo shoot is all about women, the models themselves have been compelled to justify their participation, making such inane comments as "I felt sexy obviously but I felt more emotional and it helped me accept myself."

The models who participate in this should be embarrassed, but not as much as the woman who has orchestrated the whole pitiful enterprise. MJ Day is the editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and mastermind behind the new-look departure.

In an interview with Vanity Fair last week, Day asked "Why are we only saying to ourselves that there's just one type of person that's worthy of being celebrated? It's bullshit."

Presumably, Day is counting herself among those who propagate this "bullshit" while at the same time spearheading a whole new level of BS.

In Day's brand of BS, it is acceptable to objectify women on one page and then wipe the slate clean overleaf. Alongside In Her Own Words you'll find the Rookie of the Year photo shoot. The annual competition asks eager readers to vote for their favourite nubile swimsuit model, a process reminiscent of a beachside cattle mart.

As stomach-churning as this is, at least you know exactly what you're getting with Rookie of the Year. The online article announcing this year's winner is simply stuffed with raunchy shots of the bikini-clad model with the closing line: "Can't wait to see more Alexis in this year's issue? Here are a few of her hottest Instagram photos in the meantime!"

In comparison, the online article promoting In Her Own Words is utter drivel. It insists that, despite the models being stark naked, the photo shoot has "handed over the control to the women who are our brand".

Among the soundbites promising female power Day does deliver a sliver of truth. Admitting the "artful" shoot is still supposed to be sexy, she concedes that "at the end of the day, we're always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening".

She could have gone one step further and admitted that it's tough enough to sell magazines these days without alienating your core consumer. As a woman, she also could have noted the problem with these images isn't women, and this fictitious lack of empowerment, but the audience.

If this photo shoot was produced with the intention of empowering women to feel better about their bodies (the reasoning behind one model's participation) then what place do they have in a magazine targeted at men?

The sole purpose of this type of media is for the gratification of the male gaze and the only reason it still exists in these 'progressive' times, despite the seismic shifts currently rocking society, is that there is still a very willing consumer.

As a woman and editor, Day could have rejected the condescending insistence that models partake in these types of projects for the feel-good factor. The truth is, most of them do it for the money, to build their profile and hopefully boost their fame so they become rich enough to not have to take off their clothes.

Day did not address these truths. Instead, she continued to peddle the convenient myth that hyper-sexualising women for the pleasure of men is doing one for the sisterhood.

Remember when Playboy reintroduced nudity to its pages this time last year, but tempered the backlash by including an essay on feminism in the same issue?

Apart from debuting a transgender Playmate, there hasn't been a peep from them since, presumably because they are too busy getting back to the business of hawking nude images of women.

Despite Day's assurances, when it comes to lads' mags it seems principles still take a back seat to profit.

Sunday Independent

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