Editor’s note: (Editor’s note: Frankie de la Cretaz is an independent journalist whose writing lies at the intersection of sports and gender. They are co-authors of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National League women’s soccer, and their work has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and other publications. Follow them on Twitter at @thefrankiedlc. The opinions expressed in this article are their own. Read more reviews on CNN.)
(CNN) Sports Illustrated launched its annual swimsuit issue this week, with this year’s edition highlighting body diversity and incorporating buzzwords like “inclusive” and “powerful” to describe the women represented.
The photo series featured Asian American artist Yumi Nu, whose images generated a backlash from men irritated by the fact that she is a plus size woman. It also included Kelly Hughes, a model with a visible face cesarean scaras well as Maye Musk, 74, mother of business mogul Elon Musk and the oldest cover model to ever grace the magazine.
The issue also includes a photo series featuring five WNBA players: Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart, DiDi Richards and Te’a Cooper. This is the first time athletes from the professional women’s basketball league have appeared in SI’s swimsuit issue, a move the magazine called “unprecedented”, “historic” and “radical”.
But while in theory their inclusion could be seen as progress, the glamorous aesthetic of the photos — and the language of the WNBA promoting the images — feels like a step backwards for the league’s image and brand.
The WNBA promoted the filming last week in a tweet which said “we can do both (fire emoji)”.
It wasn’t clear what was meant by “both,” but it’s not hard to conclude that they meant that players can be both “sporty” and “feminine” — two things that are often wrongly considered to be contradictory.
The photo appears shocking: all five players in the photo have been dressed in a way that seems inconsistent with their usual off-field presentation. This is especially true for the queer players in the group, Bird (generally with a feminine tendency, but without pretension) and Stewart (which rather favors a soft butch aesthetic).
Not only does this framework adhere to century-old anxieties about gender roles and the presentation of women, it is a bizarre misstep for a league that has thrived, since its inception, on allowing its players to adopt a more diverse vision. range of gender expressions.
said Bird in a statement published online by the magazine, posing for the photo allowed the players to put the diversity of the league on full display – and show how far the WNBA has come in terms of representation.
“We represent a variety of things: of course women, women of color, members of the LGBTQIA2+ community and much more,” Bird said of player involvement.
“The (swimsuit) issue has been iconic for so many years and has represented a lot of things to women. Now you see an evolution in what that can mean and what it can look like, and I think that “WNBA players are a part of it. That’s what makes it special. There’s no better group of women to showcase this evolution.”
Other players mentioned in the same SI statement, it is suggested that releasing photos gave them visibility to help advance other causes: Stewart said she hoped to promote the league’s social justice initiatives and Ogwumike emphasized the strength of the league’s players’ union.
Still, it’s disturbing to see the photos of these women — who are generally seen as not conforming to societal expectations and standards for female beauty — featured in a magazine issue known for objectifying women. It is difficult to consider this an “evolution”.
It’s also difficult to see how posing in a swimsuit would draw significant attention to the initiatives Stewart and Ogwumike hope to highlight. Rather than showing his progress, the footage appears to be a throwback to the league’s less enlightened beginnings.
When the The WNBA began in the late 1990s, its marketing reproduced conflicting ideas about how female athletes should look. Players were sometimes photographed in swimsuits or encouraged to wear makeup and dress up. There were sanctions sanctioned by the league makeup class for beginners.
And while the families of heterosexual players were highlighted, there was rarely mention composed of relatives of players whose partners may not be men.
It was part of a perpetual attempt to appeal to the cisgender and heterosexual male gaze — because, after all, why would men watch women’s sports if not to ogle the athletes on screen? And he relied on debunked, outdated and even ridiculous ideas that sports make women masculine and even, somehow, interfere with their fertility.
Gamers have taken control of their public image in recent years, thanks in large part to the rise of social media and the ability of athletes to create their own brands and aesthetics through their platforms. The league sometimes seemed to follow the players’ lead by giving them more room to express themselves: the star player heading into the 2022 WNBA Draft, for example, was Destanni Henderson, whose draft day outfit was a seafoam green suit and matching Yankees hat.
However, most often they are people dressed conventionally, Conventionally attractive (read thin, white, feminine) women who attract league attention, media attention, and sponsor money. A study of 2020 season coverage showed that white players receive almost twice as much coverage as black players, despite the league being 80% black.
“In (women’s basketball), you have to be the best player, the most beautiful, the most marketable, the most IG-loving, just to sit at the endorsement table,” said Jonquel Jones, player of the Connecticut Sun and WNBA MVP. tweeted earlier this year. “Not to mention the fact that I’m a black lesbian woman. Lord, the seats are disappearing from the table as I speak.
Despite the fact that the league sometimes fails on issues of race and gender inclusiveness, SI apparently feels that including WNBA players in its swimsuit brief can only help it appear more inclusive, less emblematic of oppressive and unrealistic beauty standards for women and adherence to values. which are relevant for 2022.
But it’s almost impossible: the swimsuit issue is a relic of a previous century. It seems oddly archaic next to Sports Illustrated’s often excellent coverage of women and trans athletes (full disclosure: I wrote for the publication).
I also wonder why the WNBA felt it would help their brand to be associated with an outdated annual tradition that has its roots in the objectification of women.
And as long as SI says it wants to expand the representation of women on its pages, it should try to move away from traditional femininity that is often the only aesthetic allowed to be promoted.
“I love Sports Illustrated’s attempt to be more inclusive and amplify women in the W,” Connecticut Sun player Courtney Williams said. said on Twitter.
“At the same time, it would have been brutal to see a sleek little sports bra and swaggin’ shorts. There’s more than one way to look sexy, and I hope that at the In the future, we can exploit this.”
The decision to present these athletes as exclusively hyperfeminine – whether made by the magazine or by the league – is not only regressive. In a league made up largely of queer women, this sends a downright queerphobic message.
There are many feminine queer women, but queer womanhood is much broader than that. By moving away from the potential of an explicitly queer aesthetic, this photo exhibit moves away from the truth of what the league actually is: a group of elite athletes that includes many Black and queer women.
It’s high time to celebrate and elevate the queer and masculine aesthetic of the center as desirable. Players – with their range of gender expressions – make the league what it is, and they deserve to be elevated, celebrated and marketed for exactly who they are.