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SI’s swimsuit issue and the power of (the male) sex

  Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, and teammate Colin Kaepernick are featured in a Levi’s ad campaign in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.   Photograph by Mike Morbeck.

Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, and teammate Colin Kaepernick are featured in a Levi’s ad campaign in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Photograph by Mike Morbeck.

Picked up my first-ever copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, which I bought for one reason and one reason alone – an image of a man.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have to write about Greenwich actress Kelly Rohrbach, one of the featured “rookie” models, in my guise as editor of WAG magazine. But mainly I bought the Swimsuit issue for the two-page Levi’s spread featuring San Francisco 49ers ‘quarterback Colin Kaepernick, his teammate Vernon Davis and model Samantha Hoopes. (The Niners play in Levi’s Stadium.)  

The ad campaign is about the most wholesome thing in the mag, which veers now and again into Playboy territory. The cover in particular has the media once again wringing their hands over whether or not SI went too far with a depiction of Hannah Davis in an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, not-yellow-polka-dot bikini, the bottom of which she has pulled down to the top of her pubic region. This is a popular new trend in posing models – having them hook their thumb or thumbs in one or both sides of the pants or skirt to hint at the treasures and pleasures beneath. Colin does it on the cover of the fall/winter issue of VMan magazine. And a young woman holding a basketball does it in the Feb. 15 edition of T, The New York Times Style Magazine.

So why do I find the images of the two women disturbing – particularly that of the T model, who’s wearing a Paco Rabane dress that looks like a girl’s school athletic uniform – and the VMan image of Colin thrilling? It’s because there’s a vulnerability to women that there isn’t to men. Or turning it around, I could say there is a power to men that makes them sexually exciting and permissible in the way women and particularly young women aren’t. Simply put, girls and women are the primary – though not only – victims of sexual assault. It doesn’t take much of a leap from the cover of Hannah Davis to the lasciviousness of the blogosphere. Indeed, some of the comments about Colin, Vernon and Samantha conjured the movie “Mandigo,” which in turn conjures the worst racist stereotypes of white women and black men. And that’s an ad that is selling nothing but blue jeans. (Remember that past Levi’s spokesmodels have included Tim Tebow.)

Anyone can imagine anything and talk isn’t walk. But there is a fragility, a nakedness to the images in the SI Swimsuit issue that there isn’t to the images of Colin in VMan or the ESPN 2013 Body issue. In the accompanying ESPN video, he’s not naked but nude, clothed in his tattoos and the totality of his personality, a warrior for performance art.

That integrity and power is what makes men, to me, the more beautiful sex.

And the more dangerous.