Yesterday afternoon, one of the hottest topics trending on social media was plus-size model Ashley Graham’s upcoming appearance in this year’s edition of the hotly-anticipated Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, which launches Monday, February 9th.
Media outlets from the US to the UK, and beyond, were touting her “feature” as a “historic” moment with clickbait headlines and story leads that had body image advocates cheering, and social chatter buzzing loudly.
But why is Sports Illustrated getting all the pioneering credit for doing nothing more than taking a lot of money from a brand to run an ad in their coveted issue?
“Sports Illustrated is making history by featuring their first ever plus-size model in the 2015 swimsuit issue.”
“2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue To Feature Its First Plus Size Model”
“Sports Illustrated Will Feature Plus-Sized Bikini Model for First Time”
“Sports Illustrated Features Plus Size Model for the First Time Ever”
“Meet Ashley Graham, the First Plus-Size Model to Be Featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue”
These are just some of the article hooks we saw. So in response to the question we asked in our lead, here’s why Sports Illustrated is (wrongly) getting history-making props… because so many of the initial news stories very poorly articulated the facts or simply buried them under cheeky commentary, and sensational headlines. And when combined, these editorial tactics make a great recipe for reader comprehension disaster.
People who don’t typically read past the lead were left with the misguided impression that Ms. Graham was going to be featured in the magazine, i.e. hand-picked by the Sports Illustrated team to be rockin’ her tiny bikini alongside some of the top supermodels and “it” girls in the world within the pages of the annual editorial spread that can make a model’s career.
YES… to have a plus-size model photographed frolicking on the beach with the likes of Lily Aldridge and Chrissy Teigen, women who have hit the genetic lottery or have been airbrushed to appear like they did, would indeed be a historic and revolutionary editorial moment for the magazine, not to mention, a breath of fresh air for the rest us. But that’s not what’s happening here… at all.
Lily Aldridge, Chrissy Teigen and Nina Agdal in 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue
What is happening is this… Ms. Graham is the featured model in a new ad campaign – #CurvesinBikinis – from Swimsuits For All, a brand founded in 2005 that is dedicated to elevating “the conversation around what it means to be confident and feel sexy in a swimsuit.” Their ad (lead image above) will be “featured” in the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, and Ms. Graham just happens to be in it.
In checking with one of our experts in the advertising world, on average, it costs roughly $445,000 to buy a single page, four-color ad in a special edition issue of Sports Illustrated. So, again, Ms. Graham was not selected by SI to be “featured” in this issue; the brand she models for paid their way (and her way by association) into it. But hats off to Swimsuits For All for making this brilliant marketing decision. The value of the PR they’ve reaped in the last 24 hours, far exceeds their ad’s giant price tag.
So we’ll ask one more time… how is this historic or revolutionary? This moment is nothing more than classic magazine advertising; how it’s been done for decades, and based on a simple equation: you pay us money, we’ll put your ad in our magazine.
Sure, there WILL be a plus-size model in the 2015 Swimsuit issue, but not in the way countless headlines were reporting. To quote a commandment that the publishing industry has always preached: editorial and advertising are treated like church and state. That means there is a distinct and pronounced difference between each, and consumers are well aware of that.
But if you want to talk historic moments associated with the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue there is actually one. Its cover is the closest the magazine has ever come to showing full-frontal female nudity. The 2015 cover model, 24 year-old Hannah Davis, is pulling her bottoms down so low that almost nothing is left to the imagination, not even her preference for hair removal.
(left) Hannah Davis 2015 cover; (right) Mo’ne Davis August 2014 cover
According to BettingSports, “Unless the word ‘swimsuit’ is in the title of the issue, it’s a rare occasion when a woman is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In fact, of the 716 issues published between 2001 and 2011, less than five percent of the cover athletes were women.”
That’s why it was truly historic when SI put Mo’Ne Davis on their cover this past August, making her the first Little League baseball player, and one of very few females, to score the high-profile spot.
While Hannah Davis is stunningly beautiful and clearly accomplished in her chosen career, we much prefer the kind of history the Mo’ne Davis cover made. Here’s to more of that.