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MADDEAUX

Swimsuit issue: Aspirational vs. Diversity

 Sabrina Maddeaux, Special to the Toronto Sun

Editor MJ Day and a model walks the runway during a Sports Illustrated swimsuit show in Miami Beach, Fla. on Wednesday, July 22, 2017. (GETTY IMAGES/PHOTO)

Editor MJ Day and a model walks the runway during a Sports Illustrated swimsuit show in Miami Beach, Fla. on Wednesday, July 22, 2017. (GETTY IMAGES/PHOTO)

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the editorial equivalent of bringing up politics at the family Thanksgiving dinner. It’s reliably controversial and a hotbed for feminist and anti-feminist commentary. The formula is as old as time: Put a woman’s body on display and people will comment until their throats run dry and wrists get carpal tunnel.

This year, SI took things up a notch by launching a new swimwear line perfect for “all types of women.” They showed the collection at Miami Swim Week, sending curvy women down the runway in a setting that’s more accustomed to washboard abs and single-digit sizing. These weren’t your standard plus-size muumuu-esque caftans or hideous one-pieces, either. The collection was sexy and sultry, with high-cut brief bottoms to show off hips, string bikinis that embrace curves rather than strangle them and one-pieces with strategic netting and deep-v necklines to accentuate fuller body types.

The show featured non-professional models (not “real women,” because models are real women, too) who are finalists in a competition to be photographed for the February Swimsuit Issue.

Some people are of the opinion that sending women with curves, cellulite and love handles down a runway defeats the entire purpose of a fashion show - yet another example of feminism gone wild. Fashion magazines and shows are meant to be aspirational, they say. To spotlight larger shapes is to ruin the fantasy and even promote so-called unhealthy lifestyles.

I couldn’t disagree more. In terms of health, fitness comes in all shapes and sizes. Many size zeros are “skinny fat,” while plus-size models can run laps around you at the gym.

Now, obesity and its consequences are a large problem. But, to conflate curves and larger sizes with obesity or unhealthiness is both inaccurate and harmful to encouraging healthy attitudes about our bodies, food and fitness.

As for being aspirational, the term is anything but objective. Just as people are inspired by different artists, jobs and landscapes, they are also inspired by different looks and bodies. For some people, that may be a thin body. For others, it may include ample curves and stretch marks. For many, they find realistic, attainable and relatable bodies aspirational.

To limit fashion editorials or swimwear shows to one cookie-cutter body type would be to ignore what large swaths of the populace find inspiring, and we’re far beyond misguided, old-school thinking that fashion is for the white, thin and conventionally pretty.

Despite surface impressions, SI has long been a forerunner in the fight to represent more types of women in media. After all, before they featured Kate Upton, even she was considered too big by many publications. They also played a large role in turning Ashley Graham into a household name and lucrative plus-size brand.

The industry, rather than look down on SI, should turn to them for leadership on how to bring the power of fashion and beauty to everyone – not just a select few.