Sports Illustrated Takes Women Back to the 70s

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a magazine that is published annually by the magazine, Sports Illustrated. It was first published in 1964 as a way to fill the slow winter months for the magazines circulation. Although the name might be Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the issue has little to do with sports.

Researchers from the University of Louisville have collected data from Sports Illustrated covers published from 2000 to 2011, 716 issues. From these 716 issues, only 35 of them featured a female athlete on the cover and only 11 of these featured female athletes were women of color. Statistically women appear on only 4.9% of said magazine covers. Sports Illustrated hardly ever puts women on their magazine covers and when they do it is a model in a scandalous pose and swimsuit. It is easy for people to say that the United States has made great progress since the passage of Title IX in 1972, but the reality is there is so much further to go.

The SI Swimsuit Issue is so explicit that is impossible to not think the intention of Sports Illustrated was to reduce women to sex objects. The models are being objectified for the pleasure of male viewing. If this isn’t the intention of Sports Illustrated then why isn’t there a male swimsuit issue? Yes the female issue brings in a large portion of revenue and advertising for Sports Illustrated, but there is no reason that a men’s edition couldn’t produce similar revenue for the brand. Critics of this idea claim that there is no previous data or testing on this to see if it would be a success. This very claim is in itself sexist. The fact that this does not exist for male’s proves the purpose of the magazines edition. Sports Illustrated has stated that a benefit of the female edition is to celebrate the female form, but apparently the male form doesn’t deserve to be celebrated according to Sports Illustrated.

The absence of female athletes on Sports Illustrated covers discourages the next generation of female athletes. If we don’t include women athletes and their accomplishments in the media, then we are not encouraging women to participate in sports. Objectifying women on major media platforms diminishes the accomplishments of female athletes. If Sports Illustrated wants to be the leader in sports news and journalism, it cannot continue to objectify women and women athletes.

The nature of SI as a sports publication raises other issues for this special edition. Other publications that have similar visual content as the swimsuit edition, like Playboy and Hustler, are required to follow certain requirements for where they sell. For example they aren’t allowed to be displayed publicly. Sports Illustrated doesn’t have to follow these requirements because for the majority of the year they are a normal sports publication.

Sports Illustrated is the number one sports magazine, but very rarely features female athletes in a positive and fair light. The cover and stories in the swimsuit edition are not designed to celebrate the athletic achievements of the athlete because the female on the cover are hardly ever athletes. In the majority of cases the cover model is just that, a model.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is the epitome of sexism in sports and female objectification. Recent issues have increased the explicit nature of the issue and have taken it too far. In recent issues, the models have not been wearing a top. This is not sports, this is sexualized women for the viewing pleasure of SI’s audience in the name of sports.

A defense of the issue has been that is just once a year, but the side effects of this issue can be received for generations of girls and aspiring athletes. This issue is a component of the trend that girls are unconsciously constantly monitoring their appearance. Other media outlets, female athletes, and the consumers must demand an end to this for profit objectification of females.

Sports Illustrated has taken steps to better their narrowly projected standard of beauty by including a plus-size model on the latest issue. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not address the problem that this issue has nothing to do with sports. In addition, Sports Illustrated must start putting more female athletes on their covers, not just when they can just focus on their beauty by putting them in a swimsuit. They must start recognizing the achievements of female athletes, rather than just 4.9% of the time. Not only do females only receive limited number of covers women also have to share the cover with male athletes in many cases.

This issue speaks to a much larger problem. Female athletes are constantly represented in the media by their looks. In most cases female sports and athletes are underrepresented in the media as well. Sexism and the dominant popularity of many male sports will continue to exist if we don’t start portraying female sports and athletes in a fair light. This doesn’t mean to hid their mistakes, but it does mean that they should be covered for their game, not their bodies, outfits, or looks. In regards to female sports being underrepresented, a study of ESPN and Fox Sports showed that they covered female sports about 1% of them time. Programming of women’s sports is a serious issue in sports journalism as a whole, not just Sports Illustrated. Their should be an increase of female sports media members as well. These reporters shouldn’t be delegated to sideline reporting, but should be valued for the beneficial and productive things they bring to the analysis and games. A recent analysis of sports journalism showed the treatment of female athletes is a serious problem. It noted that frequently female athletes are either sexualized or their role as a mother is often pointed out. Females in the sports world are looked at for their looks before their talent and this is a fundamental flaw of the system and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue perpetuates this system.


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