We’ve all seen the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Kate Upton, wearing next to nothing, freezing her butt off in Antarctica. But Antarctica wasn’t the only far-away place Sports Illustrated went. The magazine made their to all seven continents, photographing their models in bikinis.
Instead of using these foreign countries as only backdrops, some of the models were photographed standing next to natives of their homes. Some people are claiming the pictures are racist, and reinforce bad stereotypes.
Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart takes specific offense to two pictures, one from China, and another from Namibia.
In a shot taken in a picture taken on a river in Guilin, Guangxi, model Anne V., who is white and blonde, sits on a raft piloted by an elderly Chinese man:
This photo cements stereotypes, perpetuates an imbalance in the power dynamic, is reminiscent of centuries of colonialism (and indentured servitude) and serves as a good example of both creating a centrality of whiteness and using “exotic” people as fashion props.Besides which, the picture represents a specific decision to portray China as “non-Western” and “backward.” As Shanghaiist notes, in Sports Illustrated’s view “China is poverty and ‘ethnic’ clothing, not the world’s second largest economy where the majority of people live in cities rather than the countryside.”
The second controversial shot, featuring Emily DiDonato in an African desert, also include a tribal-looking, half-naked man carrying a spear:
These shots tap into the West’s past obsession/fetishization with so-called savages, jungle comics and the like. Again: In a visit to seven continents, this image is what Sports Illustrated is using to represent the continent of Africa.
I don’t take any offense to them, but I guess I’m not the one they’re worried about offending. I’m having a hard time understanding why these pictures are so bad. These people actually exist. I don’t think it’s stereotyping a whole country with these pictures.
What do you think – do these photos seem racist to you?