Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Goes to 7 Continents, Finds Exotic People to Use as Props
For the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the magazine photographed models on all 7 continents. A world tour of ill-fitting “swim” wear! But sometimes a half-naked lady standing in front of a gorgeous natural backdrop just isn’t enough. So the photographers used natives as props.
Using people of color as background or extras is a popular fashion trope, whether it’s Nylon magazine, the Free People catalog, British Vogue or J. Crew. But although it’s prevalent, it’s very distasteful.
A photo shoot in Spain included matadors. Cliché but not that problematic: Matadors are performers themselves, in a way. (Spain, and by extension, the rest of Europe, was also represented by these carriage drivers.)
However. One photograph shot in Guangxi, China, included a group of young girls. The model, Jessica Gomes, is Australian, but her father is from Portugal and her mother is from Singapore. Since she’s part Asian, it could be argued that this shot is not about what Gwen Sharp at Sociological Images calls the centrality of whiteness. Yet the model, in Western clothes (however skimpy that suit may be), is placed in the center as a contrast to the children in non-Western clothes. It renders them “exotic,” a spectacle. In addition, the model is not interacting with the kids. Classic case of othering. Also: People are not props.
Are you shocked? I know I am.
For several decades now SI has run an annual “Swimsuit” issue (under the theory that the art of bikini stuffing is a sport) and every year someone gets their panties in a bunch.
They gather a few impossibly thin and beautiful women with abnormally large breasts and “clothe” them in swimsuits containing less material than a typical pair of socks. Then they take a bunch of pictures, airbrush out the imperfections and voila!
Once upon a time it was pretty racy stuff. But compared to what is widely available online these days it’s pretty tame. I’m not sure why the bother with traveling to exotic locales and posing people in the background. Nobody cares about that stuff anyway. Well, almost nobody.
(Ironically a lot of the men involved in producing these picture are gay.)
I’m not saying that men ogling women is a good thing, but isn’t there more important stuff to worry about?
Generally speaking, healthy men want to make fun sexy time with women. (Gay men want to make fun sexy time with other men.) The human sex drive is very strong, especially at the time of young adulthood. That’s Mother Nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species.
Sexual repression leads to bizarre behavior. On the other hand women are not property or playthings. While we can’t change human nature we can and should expect men to control their base urges.
As for the “othering” of exotic peoples, isn’t that exactly what National Geographic does? Some people really need to get a grip.