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New Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Called Racially Insensitive

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What were they thinking over at Sports Illustrated when they were going to feature girls in swimsuits on the seven continents? Cover girl Kate Upton got penguins in her Antarctica shot, but models Anne V. and Emily DiDonato got different company, an old Chinese man on a raft and an African warrior in the desert respectively. The buzz coming from these photographs (both only appear online and not in the print issue) is not what SI was expecting; some people find both shots racially insensitive and offensive.

My thought is this in looking at this first photo: Why not just have the girl sitting on the raft in the river? Was it the photographer’s intention to show this man as culturally representative of China? I think not, but that’s the way it comes across. China is a huge country with cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong that rival New York and Chicago with their impressive skylines. Why not choose a river there with a sparkling cityscape in the background? A similar picture with model Jessica Gomes apparently has not rubbed people the wrong way, mostly because she is quoted as saying she is of “Chinese heritage” and found the old Chinese fellow and bird “extremely cool and friendly.”

To be fair, there are other photographs in the “China” section that show mountains, temples, waterfalls, and bamboo forests. These pictures do not include locals and why should they? Besides, I think most guys who buy this issue (I get SI as a subscription, by the way) are more interested in what’s in the foreground than in the background anyway.

In a picture taken in Seville, Spain, model Julie Henderson is depicted in a bullfighting stadium standing next to a toreador in full regalia flapping the red cape, a sword pointed to the ground between them. Here again a “local” adds basically nothing to the shot but seems less offensive, except perhaps to those who find bullfighting to be a barbaric sport. In the same section model Ariel Meredith can be seen with flamenco dancers behind her in the Plaza de Espana. Again, this seems more cultural in theme, although this connection appears infinitely more civilized than an old man wearing a conical straw hat on a raft, which is the whole point the critics are making.

Similar shots can be found that show something cultural or significant to each continent and specific country. The African section is fine with sweeping vistas of the Namibian desert or beaches as backdrops. Unfortunately, the online pictures include the one shot with Ms. DiDonato and the African man dressed like a warrior complete with spear. With so many other shots of desert sands it seems like a gratuitous picture that could be taken the wrong way. Like the shot of the Chinese man, it is unnecessary in the context of the rest of the photographs.

Overall, the concept of “all seven continents” and the tongue-in-cheek tag line “Wonders of the World” should be innocuous; however, I am sure some people find the whole swimsuit issue offensive and exploitative of women. While the editors have taken great pains to include important information with each photo (including who is responsible for hair, makeup, and the make of the swimsuit), it is obvious that what matters to the male reader is the girl on each page. SI finds some of the most beautiful girls around, and the bathing suits (some barely even there) leave basically nothing to the imagination. Let’s just say I wouldn’t leave this edition on the table where my kids can see it.

One could ask why SI even has the swimsuit issue, an edition exclusively dedicated to lovely young women in bathing suits. Of course, it is sort of tradition (dating back to the first edition in 1964), and some men I am sure will argue that this is a “sporting event” in every sense of the word, but it is quite a stretch. I do have to say that seeing pictures of those exotic locations seems rather sporting, even if the girls get in the way.

SI could certainly remove both shots from their online edition, and that would be the easiest fix to be sure, but I doubt it will ever happen. Of course, it is said that there is no bad publicity, and this swimsuit issue remains the magazine’s most popular one of the year. The critics can complain all they like, but that won’t make the swimsuit issue go away now or anytime soon. Sports Illustrated without the swimsuit issue? That just doesn’t seem sporting.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Big T.

    The swimsuit issue makes tons of money so it’s here to stay. As for the rest, no matter what you do somebody is going to be offended and I’m tired of having to always give in to the crazy few because they scream the loudest. If you don';t like it then don’t read it.

  • Normal person

    How this would offend anyone I have no idea. If you’re looking at pictures of nearly nude women and an Asian man of some small niche in the background offends you then I have no idea how your morals work.

  • Cindy

    I have no idea how this would not offend someone. Well, perhaps I do.

    This magazine treats women like meat, why not toss in some people of other cultures as props?

    Is there a difference?

    The fish does not see the water it swims in.

  • Zingzing

    That’s an odd way to treat meat.

  • Cindy

    Hmmm, I probably should have said swingset or seesaw. Men are socialized to treat women’s bodies as if they are their sexual playgrounds.

  • Cindy

    Women are socialized to try to paint their playground to attract this attention, never realizing that it will never really produce love.

    Women are not taught this. They will be used and discarded. Males with conquest them and move on. They secretly believe that they will attract love by being the best most enticing playground.

  • Cindy

    with = will

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cindy –

    You know, I was going to give a simple reply but it quickly got to the point that it needs to be an article for the BC Culture section. Some of it you’ll agree with, and some of it will tick you off no end. Seeing as how I’m 0-and-2 in discussions with you, I really look forward to butting heads with you again!

  • Zingzing

    “Males with conquest them and move on. They secretly believe that they will attract love by being the best most enticing playground”

    You see this dynamic in nature all the time, although sometimes the genders are reversed. Amazing thing, nature. At least some part of human sexual relations must be biologically mandated (instead of it being all socialization), isn’t it? Not that the sports illustrated swimsuit issue was demanded by Mother Nature or anything…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cindy –

    Ah, never mind – the deeper I got into writing the article, the more I could see that I was digging myself a rhetorical grave. You would have gleefully torn my article to shreds, and you would’ve been right to do so.

    In other words, you intimidated me without saying a word. I guess I’ve got to go turn in my man card now….

  • Cindy

    Nothing I have ever said denies a sex drive. But your point that mother nature does not demand the creation of sports illustrated issue actually IS the point.

    People have aggression. Axing other people in the head is, I suppose, one outlet for that. I don’t think it one that inspires the best in a social community.

    Women whose heads and knees are symbolically cut off are not really women, they are torsos*. People who like the idea of sex with torsos have a problem that I don’t see as created by nature. I see it as a man-made (literally) creation.

    (Or for those modern lads who’ve grown up with the internet, there is always the potential for turning women into rape puppets, beverage containers, and other things which excite by having their heads flushed down a toilet bowl.

    (There is a reason there is a market in trafficking of women and children as sex slaves. Nature did not invent this expression of the sex drive. Men did. The objectification of humans creates the same problem for sexuality as the objectification of humans capitalism creates for empathy.

    Objectification creates a sort of average psychopathy which is normalized throughout our culture. When we accept, allow, excuse, and participate in this culture of objectification, we replicate the part of the cultural unconscious that is antisocial and creates human suffering.

    (So, if you don’t want your daughter doing it or having it done to her. Don’t accept this for or do it to other people’s daughters.)

  • Cindy

    Oh and by the way. We are inside, not outside of nature, your analysis seems to suggest that there is nature and then there is us.

    Nature gave us a rather large brain. Because of that we have cultures and make decisions about how we live. I can see plenty of behaviors in animals, what does that have to do with us? A praying Mantis kills her mate. So should we expect that this is fine for humans to start doing this because we can find an example of it in the animal world?

    Gibbons mate for life, chimps don’t. Bonobos are promiscuous but then they all raise the children together. In “nature” I see plants producing their own food through photosynthesis. We can’t do this?

    I see plenty of things in nature for myself through my biases and I often see plenty of things that are interpreted through the biased views of others–and when I do see them being called ‘nature’ I have to laugh, because in my comprehension people often and typically create narratives that fit in with their biases and project them onto what they call ‘nature’.

  • Cindy

    We can’t do this. (not) We can’t do this?

  • Cindy

    Who knows maybe men can direct their sexuality into being human and loving, instead of cumming on women’s faces and using them like fuck puppets.

  • Zingzing

    “Oh and by the way. We are inside, not outside of nature, your analysis seems to suggest that there is nature and then there is us.”

    Exact opposite… Don’t even know how or why you’d get that out of what I said.

    “I can see plenty of behaviors in animals, what does that have to do with us?”

    Come on. You can have your biases, but let’s not deny nature plays no role in how we behave. (And keep in mind my actual words… Don’t pretend like I’m saying nature completely controls us.). (And you seem to be flip-flopping on this nature vs nurture thing quite a bit in the space of a couple sentences…)

    “Who knows maybe men can direct their sexuality into being human and loving, instead of cumming on women’s faces and using them like fuck puppets.”

    They do, in large part. Of course, to everything there is a season. Things get dull otherwise.

  • Cindy

    ZingZing,

    Oh I see, do you mean to say that genetics play a a part? As in nature or nurture?

    I said that we exist in nature, not above it. How could I possibly be denying it?

    I think your not comprehending my point because you refuse to mentally engage it. You’d rather defend yourself and your tastes.

    To everything there is a season? So using women as sexual object has a season–or else it gets boring?

    Boredom is a real facet of the behavior of psychopaths. (And it’s a continuum. Though I am sure your boredom doesn’t take you too far down that road.)

    All this hurts women (and children)…I hope you’re boredom warrants that for you.

    (Funny how child molesters often don’t think they are doing anything wrong. They love children many of the.

    Fish can’t see the water it swims in.

    And neither will you by being defensive.)

  • Zingzing

    “Oh I see, do you mean to say that genetics play a a part? As in nature or nurture?”

    Biological imperatives play a part. Look at our closest ape relatives… That’s what we are at some level. Socialization probably tempers some of our baser impulses. That’s not to say that some of the patriarchy isn’t entirely of our own making. But when you say we’re socialized into these things, I just want to make sure you realize some of this was in us before society even existed.

    “I said that we exist in nature, not above it. How could I possibly be denying it? ”

    You said: ” I can see plenty of behaviors in animals, what does that have to do with us?,” which I took as rather against the point you were trying to make, so I just tried to figure out which way you were leaning. It’s cleared up now.

    “I think your not comprehending my point because you refuse to mentally engage it. You’d rather defend yourself and your tastes.”

    Back off a bit. Your point is clear, but I think it’s needlessly negative. The way you seem to see the world is nightmarish. It’s completely black. The utopia you desire is nice, however. And I think it’s attainable. You’re attacking things from a position they’ve never been in, and certainly aren’t now, at least in western culture. There are bad things that happen, but you seem to be saying that’s all that exists, which isn’t anywhere near true.

    “To everything there is a season? So using women as sexual object has a season–or else it gets boring?”

    Yep. And women using men as a sexual object has a season as well. Don’t take the point beyond what I’m saying. I’m all for making love, but sometimes fucking is what’s wanted, if you can see the distinction I’m making. Please try to see the distinction.

    “Boredom is a real facet of the behavior of psychopaths. (And it’s a continuum. Though I am sure your boredom doesn’t take you too far down that road.)”

    Boredom is something everyone experiences. Everyone in the world, and everyone who has lived or will ever live.

    “All this hurts women (and children)…I hope you’re boredom warrants that for you.”

    Sigh. Such a negative nancy. If you’re just going to accuse me of all sorts of stupid shit, we can just agree to call it a day.

    “(Funny how child molesters often don’t think they are doing anything wrong. They love children many of the.”

    It’s not funny. It’s an illness.

    “Fish can’t see the water it swims in. And neither will you by being defensive.)”

    Stop it. You’re just trying to shame me for something I never said. It won’t work. In the future, I won’t respond to this kind of bait, so you might as well cut it out. If, however, you want to respond to what I’m actually saying, we can have a nice discussion.

  • Cindy

    Zingzing,

    Is merely having sex for fun objectifying someone? Is that what you think I am saying?

    Is it a biological imperative to objectify others?

  • Cindy

    “Funny how child molesters often don’t think they are doing anything wrong. They love children many of the.”

    It’s not funny. It’s an illness

    Let me spell out my implication here.

    A child molester is doing damage that he may not acknowledge or even see as damaging. He may think that his actions are wholesome and fine. He may justify them as natural. He can probably present plenty of rationalization about why its okay, even desirable.

    I chose child molester so that you could identify his actions as wrong within your ethical perspective.

    Regardless of his rationalizations, you have reasons why you think he is ill. You are not considering his actions ill because you are a negative nancy.

    Similarly, I hold that objectifying others is an illness. I find it to be the root cause of most social problems. I find it insidious. I find we engage in it because we have been grown in a framework of it. It is so much a part of us we don’t see it, like a fish doesn’t see water.

    I am not being a negative nancy, as I hope you can see. My narrative is rich and intricate. Developed over years of trial and error, extensive personal experience, and the study of the experiences and findings of many others including a multitude of scholars across a diversity of fields. It arises not from a “negative attitude”, but from a well-thought-out, in-depth, and thorough analysis.

    To call me a negative nancy is silly and presumes that I am thinking shallowly or reactively. I am not. My revelations are from a lifelong study. So, should you want a “nice” conversation you will respect that fact, though you do not agree with me.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cindy –

    Historically speaking, the idea of ‘child molestation’ is a rather new development. We see it in the Bible, and Mohammed is said to have married a nine year-old girl. It was not unusual for children to be betrothed all through the Dark and Middle Ages, and here in America it’s legal in several states to get married (with parents’ permission) to get married at as young as 15 years of age. There’s at least two states where age 14 is permitted, and then there’s New Hampshire:

    The law is complicated in New Hampshire. Individuals under the age of 18 may not marry in New Hampshire without parental approval and a judicial waiver. Brides must be at least 13 years of age and grooms must be at least 14 years of age before their parents can apply for a judicial waiver.

    In fact, the old woman we’re caring for right now, her mother was given in marriage (in Mexico) at the age of 14 to a 39 year-old American soldier. And then there’s Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his early-teens cousin, and the album cover for Blind Faith back in the late 60’s (or was it early 70’s?) which featured a bare-chested girl of maybe 13 – she’s obviously underage. I wouldn’t suggest looking it up – you might find yourself on a child porn page and draw the attention of the FBI.

    Even today in south and southwest Asia – from India to Saudi Arabia – marriage of older men to young girls is not that unusual. It’s increasingly frowned upon, but centuries of cultural habits cannot be overcome in just a couple decades (as one can see by the ongoing racism in the American South).

    Don’t get me wrong – pedophilia is wrong, flat wrong, and it’s led to uncountable tragedies and heartbreak. But that’s also human history, and it’s going to take many generations of social, um, adjustment to change the way people think. Indeed, if it weren’t for mass media and the internet, people in places where child marriage is socially acceptable still wouldn’t have a clue how wrong it is in Western eyes…and our influence on those countries to stop it wouldn’t even begin to have a chance to work.

  • Cindy

    Glenn,

    I agree, male domination dates back quite far in the human story.

    But I was not discussing child molesters, per se. I was making an analogy using child molestation to convey an idea about sexual objectification of women.

    My point about objectification is that as a culture women are treated as objects by men. As body parts, as tits and ass, as items for sexual gratification, with little regard to their humanity and this has dire consequences not only on the female’s body image and sense of self, but it also results in sexual slavery.

    That said, child molestation is another form of sexual objectification. As you say, this was not abhorrent in the past. Victims povs are rarely considered.

    Men today rarely consider the effect of their sexual objectification of women as it seems quite natural and almost transparent. One day, it may be as abhorrent as child molestation. Though it hardly seems likely. The masculine view of sex has dominated and permeated the cultural norm.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cindy –

    I guess the overall theme of my last post wasn’t as much about child molestation per se as it was that things are getting better. Yes, there’s much wrong with the world, but things are getting better. Biology may never allow us to get to the point where you’d be satisfied, but – worldwide catastrophe notwithstanding – the sociological path of humanity shows that as time marches on, we are slowly, inexorably getting better – more respectful, more tolerant of each other.

    I wish you’d draw some hope from that.

  • Zingzing

    Cindy: “Is merely having sex for fun objectifying someone? Is that what you think I am saying?”

    I don’t know anymore.

    “Is it a biological imperative to objectify others?”

    Not really, but we’ve always done it. Not saying it’s the most positive thing in the world, but we are wired to respond certain ways.

    “A child molester is doing damage that he may not acknowledge or even see as damaging.”

    True, sometimes. Although I would suppose that beings a child molester would be a pretty tortured existence. That said, I don’t know the mind of any child molesters.

    “I chose child molester so that you could identify his actions as wrong within your ethical perspective.”

    Ok…

    “Regardless of his rationalizations, you have reasons why you think he is ill. You are not considering his actions ill because you are a negative nancy.”

    Is it always “he”? Either way, the actions of a child molester are the symptoms of the molester’s illness. If they weren’t doing these things, they’d just be guilty of a thought crime, which I assume you would see as something quite different. And comparing a swimsuit issue to child molestation gets you absolutely nowhere.

    “It (objectifying others) is so much a part of us we don’t see it, like a fish doesn’t see water.”

    Do fish not have some understanding of water? And how we’re you able to break through to this revelation, which you assume no one else (or at least I and half the population) has any inkling of?

    “To call me a negative nancy is silly and presumes that I am thinking shallowly or reactively. I am not. My revelations are from a lifelong study. So, should you want a “nice” conversation you will respect that fact, though you do not agree with me.”

    I think your view is very negative, or at least how you vocalize it is. Do you really think men incapable of love and only capable of using women as fuck puppets or whatever you said? No? Then why did you say it (in #14)? It’s not reality, and when you start from a place that’s not reality, no one gives a shit about the horrors you seek to right. You might as well be fighting against Bigfoot and trying to gather followers to your cause. Be combative, but combat real enemies. Don’t start at the point where those you hope to convince are completely demonized. They’ll scoff.

  • Cindy

    Zingzing,

    You are hearing things I am not saying. You’ll have to add that into the equation of how this conversation can be meaningful.

    Do you really think men incapable of love and only capable of using women as fuck puppets…

    or whatever you said?

    Yeah, it is “whatever I said”. Not the ZingZing interpretation of whatever I said. Because I never ever said half the things you are accusing me of.

    That includes your comment about half the population. I can show you numerous men who understand what I am saying and numerous women who do not.

    So, that is my evidence for your defensiveness. You “don’t know anymore” about “whatever I said”.

    Yet you’re still apparently analyzing it.

    What does that say about your opinion? I’m sorry but I’m not going to kiss your ass because YOU feel offended or attacked. You’re not being attacked and you won’t understand a thing until you stop tripping over you own presumptions.

    Let me know when you do decide that. We might get somewhere.

  • Cindy

    I will say one thing on this subject though.

    “Is it a biological imperative to objectify others?”

    we are wired to respond certain ways

    Indeed, we are. But we are finding that the intricacies of the way that wiring plays out is much different from what was thought. According to the human genome project, we are short about 70,000 genes to explain specific behaviors in terms of being genetically “wired” to occur. The analogy I like best is that genes are a blueprint that the architect refers to, they are not the architect that determines how we behave. That is the mind.

  • Cindy

    I think if you are game, we can start by defining objectification. Let me know.

  • Zingzing

    I’m going to ignore most of your #24, because I think it’s completely unproductive. I’m not being defensive. You’re accusing me of it, but whatever. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but that’s as much your fault as it is mine. I’m certainly not trying to. You seem to be misreading me as much as you think I am you, so maybe we should try not attacking, ok?

    As for the fuck puppets comment, do you believe what you said in #14, or is that not what you believe? Just answer that question, or explain the comment more fully. That’s certainly the comment that got my britches in a bundle. (We all have britches, so it’s gender-neutral.)

    I feel like we’ve gone over this before, but here goes: I agree that there are many problems within male-female social relationships, and that females have often and still do often lack a certain empowerment in those social relationships, which males have and still do feel some sense of undeserved empowerment. And that’s not fair.

    At this point, I’m not sure if you differentiate between the worst of it and what I consider the norm, which is far more even handed than the rape culture you seem to see all around you. But this is just what I’m picking up from the language you are using. Perhaps it would be good for me if you would let me know that this is not all that you see. You seem to have a good relationship with your husband, although I haven’t heard much about him recently. I don’t want to get too personal, but you must have had relationships with men, be they fathers, brothers, friends, lovers, etc, that don’t fit into the kind of thing you report in #14, as far as I understood it.

    Tell me what you really think about the world of male-female relationships, not the fiery rhetoric. I could not give a shit about the fiery rhetoric, and it’s a huge turn-off to not only what you have to say, but towards almost any sociopolitical problem that we have these days. Give me the brass tacks, and leave out the stuff about child molestation and sex slavery for the moment. Those are things far to the outside of the basic problem, and are moral problems that don’t really concern the likes of me… They’re completely illegal and repugnant. You can try to connect the two, but that’s like connecting cutting a steak with Jack the Ripper. Jack’s bad, I get it. They’re problems that I doubt we’ll eradicate anytime soon, sadly. We can, however, steadily improve sexual equality, as we have been doing for centuries.

    Have you looked at the social hierarchy of chimpanzees? We’ve come a long way in our short time, and we’re ever-more quickly forward, but that was us just an evolutionary blink ago. Our social constructs have very rapidly closed the gap between male and female, not the other way around.

  • Zingzing

    Objectification, eh? Ok. Sorry, was on the last page, didn’t see this one.

    In the sexual act, I would say that’s treating your sexual partner as nothing but a vessel for your sexual pleasure. Of course I usually hope she’s doing the same. So it’s objectification, but it’s mutual, and leads to both better and worse things.

    In looking at another person you don’t know, I suppose it’s just removing that person from their humanity, seeing them as a sensual pile of sexual organs, muscle tone, fat deposits, proportions, facial symmetry, hair, kinks, “beauty,” all that, and thinking about what it would be like to have sex with them. Of course, they are human, and you know it. I wouldn’t want to have sex with a literal pile of vaginas, muscles, fat, femurs, cheek bones, hair and leather, but put them all together in a way I like and [censored].

    How are you defining it?

  • Cindy

    zingzing,

    Okay. I agree to change my tone and remove offensiveness. You are right, that is there as well.

    The fuck puppets comment was an expression of frustration and a generalization. But it is more about a point of view men learn to engage in. You are aware that men speak of women and their body parts as objects to fuck, yes?* (See below, after you read the two links).

    Okay, none of anything I said has to do with people getting together and engaging in consensual “objectification” via sex.

    Here are two things that will help. Both are short. This one is written by a woman, Julia Galef, with, I think, a similar to your definition of objectification who had trouble understanding what a similar to my definition meant, and how it was harmful. She explains why she changed her mind.

    Another is this one: SEXUAL OBJECTIFICATION (PART 1): WHAT IS IT?. It will give a good idea of what I mean when I say sexual objectification, with examples.

    Here is a collage of some Burger King advertisements that also say it all.

    Further to my comment about fuck puppets. It is not zingzing and his date who are having fun who populate my mind when I use the term, so much as these guys and the lighter behaviors and attitudes that birth their values: Hacker Group Anonymous Leaks Chilling Video in Case of Alleged Steubenville Rape, Cover-Up