Sports Illustrated Swimsuit embraces #MeToo, but not everyone is buying it

What Vanity Fair dubbed "the first Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue of the #MeToo era" is already facing backlash.
sports illustrated swimsuit

For decades, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition has been published amid widespread criticism, including from within the magazine’s staff, that the issue was objectifying and misogynistic.

To address those enduring complaints, SI took a slightly new approach with its 2018 swimsuit edition, which will hit newsstands next week, producing what Vanity Fair dubbed “the first Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue of the #MeToo era.” Per Vanity Fair, the issue was prepared with greater-than-usual input from the models and will feature messages of body positivity, in addition to the typical swimsuit-edition fare.

To be sure, this year’s Swimsuit Issue will still have the swimsuits and sandy beaches its readers have come to expect. The cover was shot in the Caribbean, like approximately 20 of the ones that preceded it. “These are sexy photos,” [editor MJ Day said. “At the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening. We’re Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. The ideal is to create something artful, to create a beautiful image that both the subject and the team is proud of and collaborates on together.”

Still, Day told Vanity Fair that she sees connections between the #MeToo movement and her own work. “It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” she said. “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.”

But as pleasant as all that sounds, not everyone is entirely sold.

New York Times reporter Amanda Hess sent several tweets Thursday morning criticizing the so-called #MeToo Swimsuit issue, while proudly feminist publications such as Jezebel and Broadly outwardly mocked the concept.

Here was Jezebel’s take on the swimsuit issue’s new open-minded approach:

Now that #MeToo has made the perilous journey from hashtag to movement, here’s the obvious next step: this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will loosely gesture at the movement by allowing the models to be “participants” as well as “objects.”


What, you may be wondering, is the connection between #MeToo and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Day’s explanation is this: “It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” she said to the magazine. In her estimation, the “Harvard graduates” and “billion-dollar moguls” that make up the ranks of former Swimsuit Issue models have succeeded because they wore bikinis in the pages of a national publication. That isn’t the point of #MeToo, but it is savvy marketing—adopting the catchphrases of the latest wave of resistance and using them to fit the needs of an institution that moves copies based solely on what some may say is a celebratory look at the female form.

Like empowerment feminism before it, it’s only a matter of time before the #MeToo movement is packaged for consumption, slapped on tote bags and enamel pins and sold for profit.

And here is how Broadly (satirically) weighed in:

The sports periodical, which releases an annual empowering swimsuit issue celebrating all women with svelte bodies and D-cups, has released a #MeToo-themed issue, where “models were as much participants as objects.” Because if women are finally going to end our own objectification, everyone has to watch us while we do it sensually. Why abolish wet T-shirt contests when you can take the power back on your own terms and enter the contest wearing a T-shirt that reads “OWN IT”?

Editor MJ Day, who put the #MeToo swimsuit issue together, told Vanity Fair that she “sees connections between the #MeToo movement and her own work,” which makes sense since production studios like Harvey Weinstein’s and boob magazines likeSports Illustrated probably have the same casting process.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will never not be controversial, no matter what marketing campaign its editors roll out.

[Vanity Fair]

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.