Swimsuit Edition

Ah yes, it's that time of year. The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has hit the newsstands and mailboxes of zillions of dudes (and some ladies) around the world. The other day, after catching a few seconds of a TV interview with one of this year's models, I started thinking about what these women's bodies look like to me now that I'm a fitness professional.

As a teenager, I flipped forlornly through contraband copies of the Swimsuit Edition (and the Victoria's Secret catalogs that seemed to arrive weekly), wondering how I could make my body look like those in the photos. Having previously mentioned here on the True-FN blog that I'm not especially endowed in the womanly curves department, I knew that I could at least "get skinny". And so I did.

Before long, I was undoubtedly skinny...but I wasn't healthy. I got skinny by eating very little amounts of food and doing lots of step aerobics, which mostly ate away at my muscle tissue. My dance teacher and a friend's party photographer both thought I looked great, but nobody else did. To be honest, neither did I. At 5'8" tall I recall weighing as little as 115 pounds. I was both thrilled and horrified the day I stepped out of the shower and could see all of my ribs in the mirror.

Fortunately, I'd learned enough about eating disorders in popular culture at the time to recognize the road I was on and I knew it was a bad one. I was able to shift my mindset and habits in time to regain balance. Many young women are not nearly as lucky.

But this isn't a blog post about disordered eating, which is a topic that deserves much more in-depth attention. It's a post about women's bodies and evolving aesthetics.

Today when I see a photo from the Swimsuit Edition, supposedly filled with images of the most supernatural beauties our culture recognizes, I'm unimpressed. What I see are not the figures of women who work hard at their health and wellness. I see women who are on the road to osteoporosis; women who are likely undernourished; women who do not look strong and capable. These women couldn't squat 100 pounds if their lives depended on it. The allure of these women's images plays on antiquated ideas of femininity like fragility and vulnerability...in other words, weakness.

The fashion industry has recently been under fire for promotion of severely underweight models and many in that community have taken some steps to protect themselves against the worst publicity. Swimsuit and lingerie models tend to carry slightly more bodyfat than runway fashion models (for a less gaunt and softer "sexier" appearance) but generally not any more muscle.

I realize that a lot of people find the bodies of the women in the pages of the Swimsuit Edition to be very attractive. But I challenge you to compare the following photos of well-known bikini models. Notice the dramatic physique differences between the Sports Illustrated models and the fitness models. All of these women project sex appeal, but nowadays I only admire the ones who look fit and strong - like they've worked hard for their bangin' bodies, both in sport and in the kitchen. That's admirable. An attractive physique, to me, does NOT mean thinness anymore. It means lean muscle and more than one area of the body featuring curves, if you know what I mean.

I'm curious, what do YOU think?

Here's Monica Brant (left) and new Sports Illustrated sensation, Chrissy Teigen. I think that these side-by-side pics say it all:

Jamie Eason employs a classic pin-up pose here, but she looks anything but powerless to me. A sculpted upper back, shoulders, arms, and glutes means she lifts weights...

...like doing these dumbbell rows:

Erin Stern, below, is an accomplished fitness athlete. She looks strong and healthy in both of these pics, whether posing or working out:

This next model might do some yoga, but her physique doesn't look like the result of any strength training. She's likely on her way to bone density disease in a few decades. If your body type is naturally (or unnaturally) very willowy, strength training should be EXTRA high on your priorities list:

Me? I'd rather not get stuck in a tree. Erin Stern, below, looks like she'd have no trouble climbing down by herself:


Jenn Stofferahn, Certified Personal Trainer, NPTI