The phenomenon is not entirely new. A few naked shots have sprouted up from time to time. Sometimes the discarded suit is nearby…
…sometimes there’s no sign of it in the shot at all…
…and sometimes the suit is replaced by found objects.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it provides a nice little double-take. It’s fun to see these models dip their toes into something a little more risqué.
On the other hand, the suit is a valuable part of the equation.
And here we stumble upon my cognitive dissonance with regards to the swimsuit issue.
The magazine occupies a separate space in my mind from other girlie magazines. It’s not as explicit as Playboy, which seems to be specifically about those areas that a bikini covers up. It’s not as trashy as Maxim and other lad-rags, which seem a little lower-brow in hair/makeup/wardrobe/photography (and, often, the models). And it’s definitely not as, well, biological as full-on porn.
I guess I see it as a more innocent venture, kind of a knowing cheesecake that—yes—deals with sex. But in a fun, lighthearted, squeaky-clean way.
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Look at the media attention that surrounds the issue. The models read the Top Ten list on Letterman. They appear on morning talk shows and get interviewed by chipper hosts of both sexes. They ring the NYSE closing bell.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” with its sunny, goofy, daytime charm and its audience of women 25-54, has Kate Upton on as a guest to talk about penguins and the perils of Antarctic bikini posing.
Most girlie mags are consumed furtively. SI seems to inspire a bit of a grin. Sure, Playboy puts out hardcover collections of its photography. But you get the feeling that Sports Illustrated swimsuit books might actually see the top of a coffee table from time to time.
I will stop here and say that there are several people who would claim that the swimsuit issue is an awful, exploitative, damaging piece of pornography, just as horrifying as any hardcore dirty video. (Maybe all the more horrifying for how easily it goes down as part of mainstream culture.)
Anyway, on one hand I think I’m being melodramatic by referring to the photos as “explicit.” They’re pretty coy, as far as nudity goes. On the other hand, maybe I’m just uncomfortable with the tacit acknowledgement that my sweet, cute, innocent cheesecake is at heart just a collection of dirty pictures.
But still. It’s the swimsuit issue—shouldn’t there always be a swimsuit?