Dear Sports Illustrated, Ethnic People Aren't Props for Your Swimsuit Issue
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is on newsstands now, which means it's time for the annual outcry against the way the magazine objectifies women. But this year, there's a second outcry -- against the magazine's decision to set the bikini-clad models against the backdrop of exotic-looking Asian and African people (people!) in native garb.
What was going through the editors' minds when they envisioned this shoot? Perhaps they were trying to be more culturally or racially diverse by including a loin-skinned African hunter and an old Chinese man wearing a conical hat as backdrops to photos of scantily clad white women -- but I doubt it.
As Jenn at Reappropriate explains, using people of the Third World as exotic props is undeniably dehumanizing:
In these photos, locals are not treated as human; instead they are ethnic and cultural scenery, no more human than the hat they are wearing or the boat they are poling around on the river.
Jenn goes on to point out that even the photos that don't use people as props are problematic, and typical of the swimsuit spread every year:
I would argue that that the models, themselves, are also no more humanized than their backdrops (human or otherwise). The visual juxtaposition that Sports Illustrated hopes to achieve through their swimsuit issue is one of culture clash: a "hot girl-next-door" meets "exotic locale," all designed to tantalize and titillate.