Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Sports Illustrated: The 2016 Swimsuit Issue

I think I use the word "context" in the classroom everyday. I say it because it's necessary for about 90% of the stories I tell. My favorite teachers told stories, many of which I remember to this day. I aim to pass along the good ones I pick up, and this posting is no different. I could still write my "Open Letter to Sports Illustrated" without the context, but something would be lost if I did. Here goes....

I ran into Walgreens' drug store last week to buy a candy bar. Yes, a candy bar. It's strange for me to realize and admit that was my sole purpose for entering into my neighborhood drug store, but it's true. 
As I walked in, I ran into someone I had not seen in a long time. I wasn't up for talking to her—please tell me that you have felt this way before?!—so I decided I would browse for a few moments until other customers put some distance between us in line. Not really knowing where to go, I walked toward the back of the store where I encountered the magazine section. Standing front and center before me was the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (SISI). Since I opted out, I no longer receive what is a multi-million dollar issue for my favorite sports periodical. 

As I have always done in the past, I read the Editor's Letter. I delight in the editor's attempt to describe this issue in an intellectual or justifiable capacity. I realized how strange this must look: a 42 year old woman standing in the back of the store reading—yes reading—the SI Swimsuit Issue. I couldn't help but laugh about this, on the inside of course. I was hoping and praying that again I wouldn't run into another person I know. In my very brief review, an idea was born: my open letter to SI. Here it is.

Dear Sports Illustrated,
As a loyal subscriber for over ten years now, I want to give credit where credit is due. I'm sure you receive letters of both praise and contempt in response to the 52nd annual swim suit issue. Consider this to be both.

Two years ago, I checked the box that allows me to opt out of this issue. As I have written about before on this blog, I could no longer support what you are proud to promote. You complied by extending my subscription with an additional issue at no cost and much to my delight, you did not ask me to opt out on an annual basis. Thank you

I want to add, that I believe you play a very smart game; no one would say otherwise. I see your efforts to keep magazine sales strong with regional covers and the like and this year's edition is beyond savvy. It's brilliant. It's not what you did, but how you did it. And that's why I write.

For too long, I have felt that a magazine with exceptional writers and outstanding photography has a missed opportunity in the SISI. Where you failed, the ESPN body issue succeeds. Athletics showcases the beauty of the human body in a profound way and the athletes that you profile regularly, internationally and intentionally are absent from this particular periodical. But not this year. 

As written on your website "UFC Champion Ronda Rousey has landed the SI Swimsuit 2016 cover wearing nothing but body paint." MMA fans would agree that it's high time that the bantanweight champion graced your cover. But I think it's unfortunate that  it required a bikini and body paint to do so. Is it possible to include more athletes, both male and female into the SISI? Or better yet, could you have more than two issues feature a woman on the cover. In 2015, of the 52 you ran only Serena Williams, Sportsperson of the Year and the Women's National Soccer Team were profiled on the front. By the way, Good job Team USA.

Second, I almost did a double take when I noticed your second cover model. I thought to myself, it can't it is....a plus sized model. As written on
Last year Ashley Graham was in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In an ad.  
This year the plus-sized model is one of the stars, a 2016 SI Swimsuit rookie.She's not the first model in the issue's history who is considered plus-sized, but her inclusion signals a trend for the 52-year-old tradition. 
Last year Robyn Lawley, a size 12, broke the SI swimsuit mold. Size 12 is pretty average for most women, but not when you're in the same profession as Elle Macpherson and Tyra Banks. 
Graham, a size 16, was the first plus-sized model in an ad in the issue's history (and will be in another ad this year). 
"Thank you to everyone who stood up for curves -- our voices were heard and together we can help me win Rookie of the Year," she wrote on Instagram.
Well played, SI. Well played.

In your "Swimsuit Daily" you wrote, "that's right—all of your dreams have finally come true! A historic moment in SI Swimsuit history, we crowned not one, not two, but three individual cover models." The third model, proves a point I have often wondered about.

First, that's not my dream and never has been. But more importantly. many, too many of the swimsuits you feature don't deserve to be called a swim suit. I've never really understood how fish net qualifies as a bathing suit. Perhaps there is a version with UV enhancements. But rather than just pretend the triangular swath of fur worn by Kate Upton is a plausible or appropriate bathing suit top, this year, you just did away with it, period. Most viewers are already familiar with the strategic arm placement your photographers encourage. This year we have just that and a well designed bathing suit bottom.

Your magazine continues to provide excellent material from which I raise questions—moral questions, trivia questions, dynamic questions. But I think it's important that you know the ones I raise from the SISI are far different than the others. For a magazine that claims to have a subscriber base that is 23% female, that has fewer than 5% of its content about women's athletics and even less on the cover, I will continue to ask that you play your game—a smart one—in different ways.

By the way, I noticed the editor of this issue is female. Again, good move. I urge you to seek talented female sportswriters. I can't name any from your periodical. Thank you for reading.

Anne Stricherz
St. Ignatius College Prep

Teacher, Sports and Spirituality
Coach, JV girls' golf

Photo Credits
3 Covers in 1

Fish Net

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