Oh my God, Sports Illustrated. Just stop.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Taylor Ballantyne for Sports Illustrated

You are an actual sports-focused magazine that also happens to put out a spank rag once a year. You know it, I know it, children who unwittingly walk past newsstands know it, we all know it. But now that women are all super pissed about stuff? What’s a very visible and very popular once-a-year spank rag to do?

One word: CAPITALIZE. Two more: ON IT.

Look, I get it. I work in advertising so you can’t accuse me of being some super uptight un-fun man hater who doesn’t understand how business works. I make a living helping sell garbage most people don’t need and, in most cases, would be better off without. I understand the desire to surf a trend while also trying not to make people with American dollars angry. But you know what else I understand? Not being totally full of shit.

You tried to pull what a former co-worker of mine used to call, “Emotions, emotions, emotions, now buy our shit.” It’s an impossible pivot. Very few brands are good at it. Spoiler alert: You are not one of them.

When I first read about the issue in what was a PR wet dream of a Vanity Fair piece (how are y’all not owned by the same publisher LOL?!), these are the details I enjoyed:

  • #METOO right there in the headline!
  • The models are participants and objects, you guys.
  • This was definitely a woman’s idea and this was definitely made by a team of women and a woman photographer so you can’t get mad at us because women.
  • “It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves.” You mean, like a drunk girl who passed out at a frat party and was written on with Sharpies?

Whatever. I read the article. I made a jerk-off motion with my hand while low-whispering “Ohhhhhh-kaaaaaay” and then I got back to work.

But guess what arrived in my goddamn mailbox yesterday? A MAGAZINE THAT INCLUDES OBJECTS AND PARTICIPANTS. I don’t even know why this magazine keeps coming to our house. Print magazines I actually subscribed to on purpose keep folding and then I end up non-consensually receiving magazines I definitely do not want (looking at you, Glamour. Stop trying to be Teen Vogue). Or maybe I selected it as a gift subscription from some thing I bought or signed up for and thought, “Yeah sure, my kids like football and my husband likes football and also GO UCLA BRUINS so yeah okay.”

And then once a year I want to put my fist through a wall.

Not because I’m old and sexless and just jealous, take a look at me, I AM OBVIOUSLY ALL OF THOSE THINGS, but because I spend all year talking to my kids about the representation of women and being respectful and bodies and blah blah blah and then once a year, underneath the gas bill and the pizza flyer, is some strange lady’s oiled up ass. Argh.

Let’s imagine for a moment—go ahead, close your eyes, I won’t touch you without asking—a magazine attempting to do this with men? Do men need to appear naked with words scrawled across them for us to understand their worth? Their strength? The fact that they may have a rich inner life? Or can they just appear completely clothed, in multiple layers even? You tell me:

But let’s say we did just that, had men write across their naked bodies to prove some kind of a point. What would those words be? VENTURE CAPITALIST? DUDE? LIKES OILY BUTTS? Or what if we just used some of the same words the models chose, like HUMAN or WORTHY or FEARLESS? See how absurd it instantly becomes? Do women really have to write on their own flesh for us to believe they’re human and worthy? Lady, you are buck naked in a national magazine—I, for one, already know you’re fearless.

This isn’t about the women who posed, who embraced this concept as a way to feel seen, feel powerful, feel that ultimately they define who they are. I mean, is anyone really gonna fuck with Aly Raisman? I certainly am not. This is not a shaming exercise. This is not about that.

What it is about is the cynical consumerism that allowed this to happen at all. Because at the end of the day, those ten women—artfully shot in black and white, I guess to signal to dudes that they could both jerk it to the swimsuit issue and be a feminist ally—are still sandwiched in between over 100 pages of arched backs, underboob, and silence. So are you saying the women in the full color shots don’t have a voice, a rich inner life, other roles than being an object and not a participant or …?

It all just gets to a point where I’m twisting myself into such a pretzel trying to follow the logic and post-rationalization that I can’t even tell which hole is for pooping and which one is for talking anymore.

An all-women team? I wouldn’t care if you shot, photoshopped, styled, and edited this issue with your actual vaginas.

Just stay in your lane, Sports Illustrated. Keep us asking questions like, “Wow, doesn’t that hurt when it goes so far up your butt like that?” or “Wouldn’t all that chainmail rust in salt water or …?” and stop trying to convince us you’re at the forefront of a movement when all you’re really doing is cashing in on it.

Kimberly Harrington is a copywriter and creative director, a contributor to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is the co-founder and editor of parenting humor site RAZED. Her first book, AMATEUR HOUR: MOTHERHOOD IN ESSAYS AND SWEAR WORDS, is out May 1st from Harper Perennial and can be preordered here. Follow her/me on Twitter.

Written by

AMATEUR HOUR (2018) and BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY (2021) | The New York Times, The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Cut | kimberlyharrington.me

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store