At the dawn of the 1960s, the American weekly Sports Illustrated sees its sales drop at the beginning of each year – a slow period for sports news. In January 1964, the director of the publication, André Laguerre, former correspondent of Time Magazine in Europe, then had the idea of appearing on the cover of an issue not an athlete, but a model, Babette March, posing in a bathing suit on a beach in Yucatán, Mexico. Sales are exploding. So that the Swimsuit Issue (“the bathing suit issue”) becomes each winter the biggest commercial success of the year of the magazine, which has become monthly. From 2019, its publication is postponed to May, without hurting sales. Each of these editions is a small media event.
Over the years, the covers have succeeded, featuring various models and sportswomen. Casting choices have accompanied the evolutions of American society. Thus, during the first decades, all models were white. It will be necessary to wait until 1997 for a black woman, the model Tyra Banks, to appear on the cover, 2020 for it to be the turn of a trans woman, the model Valentina Sampaio, and 2021 for an Asian, the tennis player Naomi Osaka. THE Swimsuit Issue 2023 features four covers, including one with Martha Stewart, a very famous media personality in the United States, known for her television shows and magazines dedicated to cooking and decorating.
Senior category record
At 81, Martha Stewart poses in a white one-piece swimsuit with an orange tracksuit top. She becomes the oldest model in the history of the Swimsuit Issue, taking over from model Maye Musk, mother of Elon, last year, then 74. The American press has extensively commented on the presence of Martha Stewart. First because of his fame due to his cookie recipes and his imprisonment in 2004 for insider trading. But especially for his age. On social media, many applauded the idea of an octogenarian striking suggestive poses and showing off her body, in a snub to ageism. THE New York Times even felt that Martha Stewart was making a “final stroke of bravery”.
Some Internet users and editorial writers have assured that this Swimsuit Issue was no exception to her sexagenarian misogyny: whatever the age, origin or background of the model, she is always photographed in a certain eroticism intended for a mainly male and heteronormative readership – never a man posed on the cover. But whether it changes mentalities or reinforces stereotypes, the Swimsuit Issue continues to be debated. In conservative states, many municipal libraries refuse copies. Since 2007, so as not to offend its puritanical readership, Sports Illustrated offers a subscription plan for all issues except this one. THE Swimsuit Issue, a metaphor for America.