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Victoria’s Secret, take note: ‘Sports Illustrated’ shows how to rehabilitate a brand


By Sarah Finnan
21st Jul 2021

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Victoria’s Secret, take note: ‘Sports Illustrated’ shows how to rehabilitate a brand

'Sports Illustrated' has made history with their new swimsuit edition, publishing three different covers featuring three different women of colour.

Sports Illustrated has championed the body positivity and diversity movement for years now, long before it was ever considered trendy or cool to do so. Known for including a wide range of models in both their shows and on their covers, this year is no exception and the magazine has made history with its swimsuit edition once again. 

Authentic action

That’s not to say that the magazine is without its faults – it definitely plays to the male gaze and the whole premise is based on inherently sexist ideologies – but there is an authenticity to SI that sets it apart from its competitors. Victoria’s Secret, for example.

Recently announcing a complete brand overhaul, they’re hoping to cancel out years of backlash by taking the label in a new direction. Doing away with their infamous Angels and diversifying their lineup to include athletes, activists, and actors instead, it’s all in an effort to show that they’re supposedly “listening” and that Victoria’s Secret is “for everyone”.

But the whole thing feels fake. Sports Illustrated isn’t vastly different from the former but this move feels like a genuine progression of the brand, rather than a quick attempt to save a failing company. SI is using their best-selling issue to draw attention to more than what these women look like.

Making history

While the SI cover image usually goes to a professional model (or models plural in some cases), this year the magazine decided to switch things up a bit, opting for three different covers, featuring three different women of colour instead.

Welcoming Naomi Osaka, Megan Thee Stallion and Leyna Bloom as the faces of the 2021 swimsuit edition, each of the women made history with their individual shoots – Osaka for being the first Black athlete to grace the cover, Megan Thee Stallion for being the first rapper and Bloom for being the first transgender woman. 

Blown away by the opportunity to be involved in such a high-profile project, Leyna took to Instagram earlier this week to express her joy. “This moment heals a lot of pain in the world. We deserve this moment; we have waited millions of years to show up as survivors and be seen as full humans filled with wonder,” she wrote.

“I’m am so happy, honoured, and humbled to share that I’m the 1st trans woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated! Thanks so much @mj_day & @si_swimsuit team for recognizing the importance of representation; this is all of our responsibility.”

Dedicating the cover to “all ballroom femme queens past, present and future”, Bloom continued by saying that the moment is so important because it allows people like her to “live and be seen”.

“Many girls like us don’t have the chance to live our dreams, or to live long at all. I hope my cover empowers those, who are struggling to be seen, feel valued. Let me be a messenger guiding us to a future of respect and appreciation for all women in all forms and from all walks of life.”

Also commenting on the huge milestone, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue editor-in-chief MJ Day told CBS News that Bloom’s cover is a “culmination of our powerful community coming together”. 

“Leyna is legendary in the world of activism, strikingly gorgeous, and has an undeniable sense of self that shines through the minute she walks on set,” Day added. “Her story represents one grounded in resilience, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to help her tell it. Her presence as the first trans woman of colour to be in our issue is a result of her lifetime dedication to forging her own path.”

Dealing with trolls 

While the large majority of fans were hugely in favour of the new covers, there was the small minority that felt otherwise and unfortunately, Naomi Osaka was forced to defend herself against American journalist Megyn Kelly. Reposting a message originally shared by sports analyst Clay Travis, the duo seemed to imply that Osaka’s cover shoot was hypocritical given her recent decision to forgo all press events on account of her mental health

“Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue,” Travis tweeted, with Kelly later adding, “Let’s not forget the cover of (&interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!”

Responding to the journalist in a now-deleted tweet, Osaka urged Megyn to “do better”. “Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines. If you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan [sic].”

But the conversation was far from over, at least in Megyn’s eyes who merely continued her Twitter tirade against Osaka. “Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts),” Kelly tweeted. “She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it.” 

People were quick to come to Naomi’s defence though with many accusing Megyn’s comments of being racist and trivialising another person’s mental illness.

Also condemning Kelly’s comments, MJ Day told the People Every Day podcast that “it’s such bullying and it’s so unnecessary”. “How about we do our due diligence and make sure we know what the reality of a situation [is] before we come for people?” she finished.