This year, like so many years in the past, I have purchased and perused Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, and I am reminded that the experience is not what it used to be. There was a time when this thing rocked my world, but now it's a momentary little rush of adrenaline, but in the grand scheme of cheesecake photography, it doesn't offer much.
I would imagine that I am not alone when I recall how this issue was a major part of my erotic awakening when I was a teenager. Now, I had a bit of a head start, in that my dad subscribed to Playboy and Penthouse (and even had some Hustlers) so from the age of thirteen or so I had seen many photos of naked women. But there was something about the SI swimsuit issue that energized the imagination. I have a vivid memory of a photo of Cheryl Tiegs in a see-through suit that made me feel special things deep down inside. Christine Brinkley, Paulina Porizkova, and Kathy Ireland would all become my special friends through adolescence and young adulthood.
It's interesting to track the history of this thing. What started as a filler topic in between baseball and football seasons has become the major money-maker of the Sports Illustrated business. At one time the swimsuit feature was just part of a regular issue, in between coverage of basketball and the Daytona 500. Now it's a special issue, packed with nothing but photos of nubile beauties in as little as possible. Over the years the issues have featured articles, usually on the exotic locations used, but I see that this year's issue has hardly any text--as it should be.
This year's cover girl (a high honor for a certain part of the model population) is Brooklyn Decker, who I've had my eye on for a while (and so has tennis star Andy Roddick, who is now her husband). She's a favorite of mine, as is Bar Refaeli, who I believe is or was the arm-candy of Leonardo DiCaprio. Some other models that made my gaze linger are Hilary Rhoda and Cintia Dicker (a freckle-faced redhead--love that look). In an attempt to tie it into sports, there are the obligatory shots of fetching athletes, including tennis player Ana Ivanonic and skier Lindsey Vonn (showing no signs of a shin bruise), plus some "WAGs", which stands for wives and girlfriends, in this case of international soccer stars.
The printed issue is becoming quaint. All the photos, plus more, are available on the Internet, and the issue itself is laid out like a Web page. Who knows what the future of this thing is, although I guess it still generates a ton of income for the magazine. It also inspires the annual debate between those who find this distasteful, anti-feminist or, strangely, pornography (soft-core, of course) and those of us who have other things to worry about. Though the enjoyment may not be as deeply moving as it was when I was a teenager, the annual rite of flesh-baring is nice pick-me-up during the gray days of winter.