Sunday, February 27, 2000

No sparks fly over hot swimsuit issue




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Women have been slapping copies of Sports Illustrated on my desk this week. And I know I am going to disappoint them. I just can't summon up any feminist rage.

        This is, of course, the Sports Illustrated Super Bowl of Buns, the Mammary Olympics, the Nationals of Navels — the swimsuit issue, which dramatically, uh, outstrips the magazine's more athletic issues.

        Especially in Cincinnati. “Newsstand sales for the swimsuit issue here are huge,” says Mark Krekeler, general manager of Anderson Austin News Co., a magazine wholesaler that began putting copies on newsstands here Thursday. “Huge.”

        Last year, according to Selena Fowler, national newsstand sales manager for the magazine, people in Cincinnati bought an average of 1,600 copies per “normal” issue. But Sports Illustrated sold 50,000 copies of its 1999 swimsuit issue here. Cincinnati, in fact, usually accounts for about 2 percent of the magazine's sales. “But you people buy even more of the swimsuit issue — about 3 percent of our total national sales. It's hot there.”

Tricks and lighting
        Daniela Pestova, 29, is on this year's cover in the bottom half of a metallic bikini with artfully draped beads on her other half. She was born in Czechoslovakia. The first swimsuit cover model, in 1964, was German-born Babette Beatty.

        Hey, maybe I can get incensed about that. Whatsamatter? American girls not good enough for ya? Nope. Still can't work up a real head of steam. Except I think it's hateful that Ms. Pestova — who was on the cover in 1995 and now has a 31/2-year-old child — has no stretch marks.

        She said in an interview that it's lighting and “little tricks” by the photographers. “They will tell you, "move your hips a little to the right, your feet to the left,' to make the body longer or to make the hips smaller.”

        I'll have to remember that the next time I am in one of those department store dressing rooms with triple mirrors. I'll just move my feet. And lighting. I will remember that in the dark I look just as good as she does.

        I am trying to be outraged. Really I am. But if we use up all our energy being honked off about women making lots of money to have their picture taken in $300 bathing suits at a gorgeous resort, maybe we'll be exhausted when it comes to helping women who are not being paid a living wage to show up at a crummy job.

        The models do not look anorexic, and it's not like Calvin Klein's venture into kiddie porn. These women look like grown-ups.

        They've got a new gimmick this year — as if they needed one. Every copy comes with cardboard 3-D goggles to show how the models really “bust out.” Oh, and there's a section called “Thong of the South.” But bad puns just make me laugh.

        It's not that I don't welcome every opportunity for righteous indignation. For instance, I despised the Fox Network's recent foray into procuring during prime time television. More than 22 million viewers tuned in to see 50 women disrobe to qualify for a chance to mate with a rich guy.

        “It took something like this to make the Miss America Pageant look good to me,” said National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland. Point well taken.

        So, here is the embarrassing truth: I don't think the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is dangerous or degrading. None of these women is wearing a dog collar. They look like they're having a pretty good time, and I read where they used 75 cans of bug spray. Surely that shows a genuine commitment to making these women comfortable.

        In fact, I think there's an important truth to be celebrated. Not all the testosterone is aimed at Monday Night Football. Men might be crazy about sports.

        But they like women even more.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393. Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE