Just Another Hottie In A Bikini

You can admit it — the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue used to be a big thing to you once, but that day is long since gone.

I’m not ashamed to admit, it used to be to me.  Like a lot of young teenage boys who were big sports fans, I received an SI subscription as a gift one year from my parents.  I was 12 at the time.  In February of 1983, my first swimsuit issue arrived in the mail.  I’d heard about it from even before I’d gotten the magazine, but it was still definitely a big deal when it arrived at my house for the first time, a vision of warm, exotic places in the middle of what was a decidedly cold, Midwestern winter.

Original, unedited cover of my first swimsuit issue

To put this in a little bit of context, at the time I lived in a rural area that didn’t have cable, so there was no HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax.  The Internet was nowhere near becoming a reality — my Intellivision represented “cutting edge” home technology then — and VCR’s were still a luxury that you didn’t find in every home, certainly not ours.

So how did a young man get his … er … “female fix”?  Well, unless you had a father who collected Playboy and left the magazines somewhere they could be found (and my dad did neither), the closest you were going to get to admiring the female form was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue — hence, my excitement at the time.

My mom and dad usually got the mail from the box, so imagine my horror when I got the above issue — but with certain “select locations” obscured from view with permanent black marker!  It was my first brush with censorship, this one coming at the hands of my somewhat overprotective parents.  I wasn’t too happy, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that they hadn’t kept the issue away from me entirely, and that there was still plenty to be seen inside the pages that they hadn’t taken pen to as well.

Artist's rendition of the censored cover -- I can't remember exactly how it looked, but it might as well have been like this

Over the years, as my subscription continued, I received a number of other SI swimsuit issues — thankfully, none of them altered the way the initial one had been (even my parents realized it was time to let me become a man, I guess — either that, or the black marker ran out of ink and they never got around to buying another one).  Every young man has memories of his first celebrity crushes — was there any boy growing up in the 1970’s that did not have or not want the famous poster of Farrah Fawcett on their wall?

You should see her now -- no wait, that might not be such a good idea

The face on every 13 year-old's bedroom wall in the 1970's

My own favorites at the time became two women I discovered through the SI Swimsuit issue — Kathy Ireland (still a hottie after all this time) and Paulina Porizkova.

In time, I ended my subscription to Sports Illustrated and moved on, while over the years, the swimsuit issue has lost most of its relevance.  I discussed that fact with a friend once, and we agreed that the nature of the world today — and the accessibility of the female form in media — have played a large part in the fact that, frankly, the issue just isn’t a big deal anymore — not with the availability of magazines like Maxim, not to mention the explosion of the world wide web and soft-core programming on cable/satellite television.  I greeted the announcement of this year’s cover model, Bar Refael, with little more than a yawn — that and maybe a quick “A guy walks into a ‘Bar’ … ” joke when I first saw the cover model’s name (thanks — I’ll be here all week).

Maybe it warrants suggesting that Sports Illustrated should do away with the issue entirely at this point.  The magazine always garnered a lot of controversy from its publication anyway, and I have to wonder what the point is anymore with their continuing on with it.  Sure, they’ve actually used the occasional sports athlete to model the swimsuits in more recent offerings, but it’s obvious that most of the swimwear is barely functional for sun bathing, never mind swimming — and that’s not even mentioning the “body paint” suits that can be found now in its pages (and I can only imagine my parents’ horrified reaction if they’d had that prevalent back in 1983).

No, the SI Swimsuit issue has nothing to really do with “sports”; rather, it’s the once-a-year attempt of a magazine that wants to be respected for its work in journalism trying to be something it’s not:  a pin-up book.  There are magazines that do that job now to much better effect, and they do it year round to boot.  As much as I love tradition, it’s time for Sports Illustrated to get off the beach and focus on in-depth analysis of sports.  Heck, if you could get him to put down the copy of Maxim, even the 12-year old in me could probably agree with that now.

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