Yes, the image below is of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, Anne V, on a bamboo raft on the Li River in Guilin with a cormorant fisherman. You wouldn’t be alone if you thought the image was photo-shopped. Well, it is not. Sports Illustrated has actually gone to all seven continents and found local cultures as backdrops for their swimsuit photo-shoots. Their China landing page is here.
Below is of Jessica Gomes posing with a group of ethnic minority Miao girls in Guilin.
Apparently, a controversy has brewed since the photos were published. Some have argued that by placing local culture and people as “props,” Sports Illustrated is reinforcing stereotypes of other peoples as backwards. ABC News framed the controversy in the short video below:
For me, the criticisms are too harsh. If anything, I thought Sports Illustrated has actually brought familiarity of other cultures around the world to an American audience who would otherwise get very little exposure of. Albeit, using women in bikini to do so is just weird, though we should remember, Sports Illustrated’s business model is selling sexual fantasies.
In the Jessica Gomes pose, imagine the Miao girls replaced by a group of elementary school children. So, that image doesn’t quite work for me initially. On one hand, you have something supposed to be racy and sexy while on the other, you have children and innocence. For most normal people, I think they immediately see that dichotomy too.
My view is that Sports Illustrated genuinely tried to portray the Miao girls and their traditional outfits as exotic. Otherwise, for the reason given above, the image simply wouldn’t work.
Chinese society is still relatively conservative across all her media, so by associating these swimsuit models with these exotic locales in China tones the sex part down a bit I think. If you are Sports Illustrated and wanting to cultivate the China market, how would you go about it? Being overt on the sex part will be frowned upon, and certainly will by the censors.
Below is Jessica Gomes in Qixing Gongyuan (Seven Star Park), in Guilin. I was there two years ago (see my post, “Faces of Guilin“), and in fact, on that very same bridge.
Notice that the sun is around the three’o clock position lighting up her hair and skin. Some assistant is likely holding a reflector at the seven’o clock position to reflect light back at Gomes’ front so when the picture is taken, she is properly exposed.
In response to ABC News, Sports Illustrated said:
“Since its inception, the swimsuit issue has been a showcase for beautiful women and exotic locations. This year’s edition went to all seven continents, something that no other publication has done, to present the natural beauty of each setting and its people. We apologize to anyone who has taken exception to the way their culture was represented.”
What about the image with the African man in the desert as shown in the ABC video segment above?
Perhaps I am not qualified to offer a judgement since I am not of an African heritage.
The truth is that Western media predominantly describes Africa as a barbaric and backwards continent while at the same time whitewashes the damages done by the West since colonialism.
So, is Sports Illustrated perpetrating this view that Africa is backwards?
In my view, it is not. Sports Illustrated has nothing to gain by pulling such sentiments into their images. What do you think?