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Sports Illustrated tries to rehab the swimsuit issue with advertisers who ‘make progress for women’

January 21, 2022, 1:39 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Maura Healey enters the Massachusetts governor’s race, Rent the Runway has new tech, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue gets a rehab attempt—again. Have a great weekend.

– Swim season. Do you have your calendar marked for May 2022? That’s when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition comes out—and the magazine is trying yet again to reinvent itself to feel relevant and not wildly out of touch with today’s world.

In 2022’s swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated will only accept advertising dollars from “brands that are helping drive gender equality forward.”

What does that mean exactly? The announcement is heavy on buzzwords, but light on details. A brand will be certified as a “changemaker,” permitted to advertise in the pages of SI Swim, only if it “has made, is making, and will make progress for women.” Swimsuit issue ads will be required to showcase that “progress … to build equity for all women.” And a percentage of swimsuit issue sales will go to the Sports Illustrated Gender Equity Fund, which “create[s] an equitable future for all women.”

For a few years now, SI Swim has come up with new ways to position itself as achieving “firsts” for women within its pages. There was model Halima Aden wearing a burkini and hijab in 2019. In 2020, we got three cover stars: Naomi Osaka (first Black female athlete on the cover), Megan Thee Stallion (first rapper), and Leyna Bloom (first trans cover star and first trans woman of color to be included in the magazine). Those are four inspiring women—but can SI really use their accomplishments to reinvent itself?

We don’t yet know who will appear in the pages of this year’s issue—or how they’ll fit into SI Swim‘s evolution “from its fun-and-sun roots into a brand focused on inclusion, empowerment and the constant redefinition of what’s beautiful.” Maybe my skepticism will be proven wrong, and the collection of change-making advertisers alongside this year’s editorial will move the needle for women’s equality.

But SI Swim made the announcement yesterday on the 58th anniversary of its first print issue. That’s almost 58 years of capitalizing on women’s bodies, profiting off a version of female sexuality centered on the male gaze, and promoting a limited—thin, white—vision of what is attractive and desirable. It will take more than a change in advertisers to undo that damage.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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