It's the time of year when Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue launches - to the chagrin of gender-equity advocates everywhere. But this year, the magazine is adding curves.
Despite the issue's name, we all know the content has nothing to do with the swimsuits, and everything to do with idealized female bodies. Gracing the cover this year is a model wearing an extremely low - many say "shockingly low" - swimsuit bottom.
And we've been hearing the buzz about the magazine's biggest-selling annual issue for days. Advertisers, journalists, writers and consumers play into its message: It's not the same old Swimsuit issue! This year, in fact, is different.
The notion of wearing a swimsuit while being larger than size 2 just got a few steps closer for a lot of women. In this edition, the size-12 model Robyn Lawley makes an appearance in the editorial portion, and Sports Illustrated accepted an ad showing a size-16 model, Ashley Graham, in a swimsuit.
The image of Lawley may show SI's growing approval for larger bodies. But as a 6-foot-tall size 12 (that's size 14 in the United Kingdom and size 16 in Australia), and with a bust of 36 inches, waist of 29 inches and hips at 39.5 inches, Lawley is much taller and thinner than most size-12 women in the non-modeling world.
Separately, the ad is for "Swimsuits for All," a company that sells swimwear for women larger than size 8. The ad is not creative: It uses the same old visual devices and adds body fat. The result is a Rubenesque, swimsuited model posing by a pool while a fully dressed, thin man looks at her approvingly.
Any kind of break from the reed-thin woman in a skimpy swimsuit is a big change. Women put themselves through torturous experiences when swimsuit season rolls around: dieting to "fit" into a bikini because they believe they must look a certain way in order to look good in a swimsuit. And hating themselves when they don't.
So these two images may just tell women what they need to hear: You do not have to be a size 2 to wear a swimsuit and enjoy yourself.
On the other hand, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is really just old-hat sexism. Objectification of women should never be acceptable. How can we expect men, especially young men, to view women as equals when they're bombarded with images of women as something to be ogled? SI's Swimsuit issue, along with many other media images of the "ideal female body," imprints on a young man and gives him a distorted lens through which to view women: as bodies, not as people.
In an ideal world that's fair and equitable to women, this nonsense would stop. Until then, women larger than size 2 can start to see bodies like theirs in the swimsuit issue, and walk out onto the beach or pool deck with confidence.
Jennifer Berger, the executive director of the San Francisco nonprofit organization About-Face, is an expert in how media shapes our sense of self.