According to Vanity Fair, the issue will include a project titled “In Her Own Words,” featuring models Paulina Porizkova, Sailor Brinkley Cook, and Robyn Lawley posing with words written on their bodies in black marker, deeming them, “mother,” “nurturer,” “creative,” and more. The spread was shot by an all-women crew led by photographer Taylor Ballantyne—the first in the issue’s 54-year history. (But of course, the issue will still have swimsuits and sandy beaches, the publication assures.)
“It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” editor MJ Day told Vanity Fair. “That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit Issue. You have Harvard graduates, you have billion-dollar moguls, you have philanthropists, you have teachers, you have mothers—you have a full range of women represented in the alumnus of this magazine, and not one of them failed because they wore a bikini.”
There’s something to be said for using your platform to promote a message for social good. There’s also something to be said for women projecting their bodies how they want to be seen, be it nude, fully-clothed, or whatever, to make a political statement.
But the concern that many critics have pointed out when detailing their problems with this newfound platform of “empowerment” isn’t the swimsuits, or lack thereof. It’s the fact that this platform is a publication that has historically objectified women’s bodies and sexuality for the pleasure of men.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition isn’t known for the photography, or even for the models, but instead known for bodies of women being used for men to gaze and impress upon their own sexual fantasies for sexual gratification. Critics across Twitter echoed this sentiment, wondering what this Me Too project intended to evoke.
I really don't understand how making them MORE naked and writing words on their bodies makes this any better— Olivia Messer 🌊 (@OliviaMesser) February 8, 2018
Posing nude can be empowering! Body positive campaigns can be empowering!— Ella Dawson (@brosandprose) February 8, 2018
The swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, which caters to horny dudes, is not an empowering depiction of women. This is not a magazine I trust to fight sexual harassment and assault. #MeToo pic.twitter.com/NNi5vMaP3E
Sports Illustrated is hijacking a social movement for profits- stay classy. When a men’s wank mag that contributes to and reinforces second class status of women claims to be part of the solution, I call bullshit. #MeToo— Caitlin Roper (@caitlin_roper) February 8, 2018
I mean, this Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue #MeToo effort would be more meaningful if the women's bodies weren't all sexualized – or at least not all size 4 literal bikini models. :|— joanna schroeder (@iproposethis) February 8, 2018
While the project may be well-intentioned, its attempt to address sexual harassment and assault is derailed by the history and original intent of the Swimsuit Issue itself. Had this been a new magazine, or even an old lifestyle magazine trying something new, not even an art magazine, this project could have flourished and had meaning.
Instead, women are left wondering just how much the men who purchase the Swimsuit Issue could care about listening to women’s stories of assault and harassment when they’re busy masturbating at their expense.