Open Letter to Sports Illustrated and its Swimsuit Cover Girls Why this year’s covers do the opposite of embrace true beauty
There’s been a lot of hype about the annual swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. This year, the magazine is promoting the fact that they ran not one, but three covers to promote what true beauty looks like.
“It’s always been an objective of mine to be more inclusive and be more representative of what real beauty is,” MJ Day, editor of the issue explains in an interview with People magazine.
The covers feature:
1. Typical young thin blonde model, Hailey Clauson
2. Muscular women’s fighter, Ronda Rousey
3. Countercultural size 14 model, Ashley Graham
I love the buzz around embracing different body types and being more inclusive in our definitions of beauty. I am a huge proponent of embracing true beauty, that each of us is a unique, perfect masterpiece. But, Sports Illustrated, I am so confused!
We’ve come so far in celebrating the inner strength, true beauty and athletic prowess of women’s athletes like Carli Lloyd, 2015 FIFA player of the year. We’ve brilliantly praised the true beauty of curvy-figured Adele whose heart-wrenching voice stirs our souls. So how can we be okay with the number one magazine sold and viewed by on average, 23 million people, bringing in over $1 billion, to be of naked women under the guise of “sports” and “embracing beauty”?
It disturbs me. And it breaks my heart. As a mother and advocate for women of all ages, here is what I want to say to each cover girl and to Sports Illustrated about how we should define true beauty.
Cover girl #1, Hailey Clauson you are beautiful. But Sports Illustrated, how is showcasing her wearing only a g-string and squashing her breasts with her hands embracing her true beauty? I have two daughters. There has never been a day that I have thought I would build my girls’ self-confidence by telling them to dress scantily or draw attention to themselves by exposing their bodies. Not once. This is not how I want them to view beauty, or how I hope they aspire to define their worth. I also have two sons, and I do not want them to see this image, drop their jaws, drool, and think, this is what I’m looking for in a girl. This is what defines beauty. This cover doesn’t embrace the whole beautiful package of Hailey, but only her physique displayed in objectified positions.
Cover girl #2, Ronda Rousey, you are beautiful. Sports Illustrated, you chose her to make a statement that strong, athletic bodies are beautiful. My daughters are athletes. I love that they find confidence and self-esteem in working hard, playing as a team, giving it their all and pushing their bodies to be strong. But SI, your athlete “role model” is naked. Yes, nude, as in zero clothing, just body paint. Not a stitch of swimsuit. And the last time I checked, paint does not count as clothes. How is placing Ronda, naked with a tapestry painted on her torso, embracing her talent, skill, drive, strength, accomplishments, girl power, which is integral to her true beauty?
Cover girl #3, Ashley Graham, you are beautiful. Your smile is dazzling and I’m so impressed that you have been an advocate for eliminating the word “plus size” from our vocabulary, especially within the fashion and magazine industry. You even rocked a Ted Talk proclaiming we should just say, “my size.” But Sports Illustrated, you brag Ashley is the “first plus-size cover model” to grace your publication. SI you’ve not only ignored Ashley’s personal cause, but thrown it back in her face, or should I say, her bikini.
All of this has been on my mind since I saw an interview with the cover girls on Good Morning America. I’ve been mulling it over. Thinking through it. Excited that people are out there talking about body image, that interviews are taking place about how beautiful all body types are, but at the same time truly frightened about the ramifications of good intentions with scary results.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19
When I opened my mailbox last week to see a topless Hailey Clauson smiling at me, I felt violated. My fourteen-year old son subscribes to SI. He’s a sports fanatic. But because the swimsuit issue has been risqué for years, we check the box on his subscription card to get the full year of Sports Illustrated WITHOUT the swimsuit issue. Yes, even when we deliberately chose that these images would not mold our sons’ or daughters’ views of what true beauty is Time Inc. still delivered it to our household. What?
I tossed the magazine in the recycler. But its contents are haunting me. It concerns me that this was delivered to at least three million other mailboxes, that at lease another million people purchased it at newsstands, that more than 23 million other pairs of eyes will see objectified, naked women under the distorted lens of calling this ‘celebrating true beauty’.
True beauty is what lights you up inside. True beauty is your laugh, the way your eyes sparkle, yes, your specific and unique curves, height, skin color and hair texture. But not as individual parts, not as body parts, and those body parts weren’t made to be exploited. Just as Seurat’s pointillism painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” isn’t about a certain shade of green he used or the child in the forefront of the painting or the size of the canvas, it is a masterpiece because a million dots in a range of colors, all come together to create one beautiful picture. That is like each of us, a million different components, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, talents, skills, insights, smiles, curves of eyebrows, all coming together to create beautiful, individual masterpieces. This is what we need to celebrate. I would love to see Time Inc. truly take this on, but they aren’t doing so with this year’s swimsuit covers.
How do you feel about the swimsuit issue? Leave a comment below if you think Sports Illustrated is broadening or narrowing our view of beauty?
Laura L. Smith