Sports Illustrated caters to...well, it’s not entirely clear

I am under the impression that most heterosexual men find unattractive men who have had surgery and put on make-up to appear like women. While they may appreciate that person’s superficial attributes, the fact that the person is, in fact, a man, is a turn-off. Nevertheless, Sports Illustrated a magazine that has traditionally had a male reading demographic (in 1997, women made up only 14% of the magazine’s readership), decided to include a man with long hair, breast implants, and a lowcut swimsuit on one of its three swimsuit edition covers. It’s certainly woke but who’s the customer?

Sports Illustrated was yet another product of the 1950s that catered to an affluent new America, one in which men had time to read lengthy magazine articles about the sports they followed. As part of the American landscape for almost 70 years, even those who aren’t sports fans know about what used to be its best-selling issue: The swimsuit issue.

Beginning in 1964, the swimsuit issue has traditionally featured famous, gorgeous models lying around on beaches in skimpy swimwear. Beginning in the 1990s, the magazine added gorgeous women athletes to the swimsuit edition.

Since the 1970s, feminists have objected to the swimsuit issue on the ground that it objectifies women. It probably does but the women who are objectified have gotten paid lots of money for the privilege and haven’t complained.

The most important point about the swimsuit edition is that it caters to men’s fantasies. Men like to look at beautiful women. It’s a guy thing.

Provided that they aren’t inundated with too many airbrushed fantasies or living on a steady diet of extreme and unrealistic pornography, men seem to handle well the transition between fantasy in the magazines and the reality of the women who share their lives. In the same way, once we’re adults, when we watch Warner Brothers’ cartoons, we understand that Daffy Duck can survive repeatedly being shot because he’s not real.

Lately, whether because readership is dropping or because management at the magazine consists of recent(ish) college grads who are woke, Sports Illustrated has been trying to diversify the women featured in the swimsuit edition. As noted, they’ve been putting women athletes in the swimsuit edition even though they aren’t model thin. In 2019, they put a Muslim woman in a hijab and full-body swimsuit in the edition. It was a great throwback to the gorgeous women on American beaches in 1900, although it’s questionable how many reader fantasies it fulfilled.

This year, the magazine is again breaking boundaries. The swimsuit edition features plus-size models. Since most women are not model thin, this certainly represents something closer to reality for the American man to lust over.   

The really different thing, though, is that this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is featuring a man who pretends to be a woman. Leyna Bloom is a man who’s obviously had breast implants. He’s got long, wavy, black hair, and, if he poses correctly, it sort of looks as if he has hips. Moreover, if he juts his chin out just so, his face looks feminine, rather than thickly masculine. The overall impression at first glance is absolutely like looking at a female model.

But he’s not a female model. He’s a guy. And the question is, to what demographic is Sports Illustrated, a magazine that’s still mostly a publication for men, trying to appeal? Do they enjoy messing with their readers? Haha! You thought it was a woman but you’re wrong. Either you’re a homosexual or a decent human being or, if you don’t like being tricked this way, you’re an evil homophobe.

Or are they catering to that small number of sexual fetishists, both male and female, who are attracted to the idea of so-called transgender women? No matter how you look at it, it’s a peculiar decision and one that, despite the media’s assuredly joyous reaction, probably won’t sell magazines.

The two other cover models are Naomi Osaka, whom everyone claims is Black, although she’s just as Japanese as she is Black (for the left, the one-drop rule lives on), and Megan Thee Stallion, one of the more vulgar products of American pop culture. But hey, a man, a vulgarian, and a half-Japanese woman – how much more inclusive can you get? And, with Bloom’s inclusion, how much more anti-woman?

IMAGE: The Hill notes the man on the Sports Illustrated cover. Twitter screen grab.

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