By: Jennifer Titus
For over 60 years Sports Illustrated has been weekly showcasing athletes all across the board, college and professional, both men and women. They have special edition magazines like, “Sportsmen of the Year” (now known as “Sportsperson”) which one athlete receives the cover and is honored in the volume. Another special edition is “Moments of the Year” which reflects spectacular sports moments from the year. But the most popular special edition is the “Swimsuit Issue” which has a woman on the cover in her bathing suit, which is obviously a great way to illustrate sports on Sports Illustrated. And no, these women aren’t on the cover for beach volleyball. This special edition was created in 1964 “to increase readership during the winter lull between popular sports seasons.” Now it is “become the single best-selling issue in Time Inc.’s magazine franchise” and makes up “seven percent of Sports Illustrated’s annual revenue.” The Swimsuit Issue sells “10 to 15 times more” than any regular Sports Illustrated issue.
The reason for the success of this special edition can be discovered through a theory called Hegemonic Masculinity, “the culturally idealized form of masculine character” as defined by Nick Trujillo. Most of the 56 issues each year focus on an athlete, wearing their uniform, usually captured while in action and it is usually a man. Week after week, Sports Illustrated show that men have physical force and control, have occupational achievement and adhere to heterosexuality simply by showing male athletes on their cover looking aggressive in a field they have excelled in while women are objectified.
When searching “Sports Illustrated cover” the results reveal popular male athletes in uniform who look angry or aggressive. The results only show women who are in bikinis.
Physical Force and Control
Based off these results of the Sports Illustrated covers, being an athlete requires having strength, skill, and aggression. All of the men are captured with their muscles showing, revealing their strength. They are holding sports related equipment revealing what they are skilled in. They have this look on their face like the picture was taken right after they said, “I’m a force to be reckoned with.” The results page shows women being dainty, gentle, skinny, and inviting. The only sport they could possibly be illustrating would definitely use a “LadyBall” which is advertised as a pink, soft, gentle and lighter than a regular ball.
Thankfully, this ball is not actually real, however the images from the results page re-enforce these culturally accepted ideas of men being tough and women being gentle.
Men are excelling at being athletes while women are excelling at wearing bikinis. Sports Illustrated is portraying men as the athletes while they are portraying women as sex symbols. These women on the cover are being talked about in the media as “beautiful” and “confident”and the media isn’t talking about the men because it is normal for men to be on the cover.
The words on the covers (from the results) around the men are, “champs,” “mean,” “kings,” “mega,” while the women have words like “she is glorious,” “bodypaint,” “bombshell,” and “perfect.” These words create a divide between the men and the women. The men are being described as skilled, strong and hostile and the women are being described based on their physical appearance.
As seen from the results page, the men on the cover have puns that use their names, such as “Manning Up” for Peyton Manning. The women have to be introduced like “This is Kate Upton” but who even was Kate Upton before Sports Illustrated? The reason for these introductions may be shocking…
The women on the swimsuit covers aren’t usually female athletes, instead they are usually models. Ronda Rousey is the only athlete on the cover this year, while the other women on the cover of this year’s Swimsuit issue are models. Are women better off being showcased as a model rather than excelling in a sport and being showcased for that?
Ashley Graham turned her cover into a self-image campaign, saying that “’Sports Illustrated‘ Cover Is for ‘Every Woman Who Felt She Wasn’t Beautiful Enough‘”. Graham is considered a plus sized model, and this is the first time a plus sized model has been put on the cover of SI Swimsuit Issue.
But why? Is putting a plus sized model on the cover of a popular magazine controversial because it goes against what the culture says is “beautiful?” The cover of this year’s Swimsuit Issue having more models than athletes might make women feel inspired to love their body but what about feel inspired to love sports? This is Sports Illustrated, right?
According to Hegemonic Masculinity, our culture has cultivated the imagery of what a “man” is and they are supposed to have “muscles, hardness and action” (tall, dark and handsome, amen?) but men are also supposed to like women. This theory emphasizes why it is acceptable to put a woman barely dressed in front of a predominately male audience. It sells. It brings in more than $1 billion. It is the most popular because men being men is encouraged in our society.
Our culture has accepted, but not questioned, why a sports magazine has a swimsuit edition because of Hegemonic Masculinity. Our culture has bought into the ideas that a man should be strong, have achievements in the work world and be heterosexual, and therefore that women should not be strong or have achievements in the work world, but that women should be support the male’s heterosexuality. Sports Illustrated should be illustrating what sports are like. If you want to see more women in swimsuits, let me tell you about this store called Victoria’s Secret… In the meantime, bring out the athletes, not the models.