Sports Illustrated is an acclaimed magazine known for celebrating the success and stories of athletes. However, every February this is not the case. Instead of properly representing and celebrating female athletes, Sports Illustrated promotes sexual objectification of women with its swimsuit edition of the magazine. With the addition of plus-sized models and the Olympic athletes in the past years, the publication attempted to promote a view supporting women and their bodies, yet still fell short.
Sports Illustrated has a set of tabs on the specific website designated for its swimsuit edition. Such tabs discriminated between labels like models, rookies and athletes. Why is there a need to separate the athletes from the professional models? It sends the message that women with athletic bodies do not reach the standard of beauty that society claims models possess.
Why are models used in the first place? Sports Illustrated encompasses all types of sports-related articles, so why not exclusively use female athletes? Nevertheless, the lack of legitimate purpose in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is evident and needs to be addressed. Feminists continue to urge the media to cease the continuous objectification of women, and some progress has been made. However, the conversation must continue. Society passively accepts, and even celebrates, the swimsuit issue each year. If changes to the thematic purpose of this issue fail to improve, such archaic sexism will only endure. The manner in which women are projected in the swimsuit issue should serve as a call to action; the time for women to remove themselves from this sexual objectification narrative is now. In order to end the vicious cycle, both men and women need to speak out and take a stand to support women and denounce the legitimacy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Additionally, the website includes an interview with Serena Williams, one of the athletes featured in the 2017 issue. The interview included surface-level questions, primarily focusing on the concept of swimwear and the swimsuit issue as a whole. More specifically, one question stated, “Did you train for the SI Swimsuit issue any different than you’d train for a big match?”
Such mundane and borderline condescending questions caused the article to fall short. As one of the most successful and talented athletes of our time, Williams has so much more insight to offer about life and body acceptance. Rather than focusing on that, the interview focused on irrelevant aspects of Williams’ life.
Instead of concentrating on the swimsuits the women wear and their bodies, Sports Illustrated should alter the issue to showcase female athletes in their most confident state. Whether that be in a swimsuit, uniform or a dress, the decision should lie in the hands of the athletes. Body acceptance and positivity should not rely on models in swimsuits or body paint, but rather women of all walks of life wearing what makes them feel comfortable in their own skin, whatever that may be. In order to create a new capacity for the swimsuit edition, Sports Illustrated should feature female athletes and discuss their journeys with body image, setting an example for young girls that an athletic body can be beautiful. Sometimes confidence is hard, but it is possible.
Although being an athlete isn’t always pretty, that does not mean female athletes aren’t beautiful. Maybe one day Sports Illustrated will successfully illustrate women in sports, but until that day, remember that female athletes are strong both physically and mentally, and within this strength lies their beauty.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 25 print edition. Email Tori Bianco at [email protected]