Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 19 News List

`Sports Illustrated' faces anti-swimsuit backlash

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

There are, it seems, subscribers who dislike Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue.

They don't want to see it and they certainly don't want it sent to them. Some view the sensuous lounging of supermodels in expensive bikinis as alien to the mission of a weekly sports magazine.

The anti-swimsuit backlash has never developed into a mass movement of antis burning the special winter edition in protest. But there have been letters, more in the past than now, saying that the pictorials objectify women. And, occasionally, there have been demonstrations outside the magazine's office building in Manhattan.

But now the magazine is inviting subscribers to say "no thanks" to Veronica Varekova, Carolyn Murphy and other models, including the one who will be the winner of a new reality show, NBC's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search.

The headline on a small box in two recent issues read "If You Don't Want the Swimsuit Issue." The notice provided a phone number (1-866-228-1175) for subscribers to request that the issue not be mailed to them. Those who do so will have their subscriptions extended by one issue.

Terry McDonell, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, said: "It's my third swimsuit issue and I wanted to flag this, because I think it's a good policy. I was thinking that if a family doesn't want this coming into their house, with six boys between the ages of 7 and 11, we should show them that it's our responsibility."

The policy for the swimsuit issue has been quietly in effect for decades. McDonell said the decision to make the offer for the 42nd annual issue was not a reaction to a more conservative climate.

"That's the last message I'd want to send," he said. "This is about good manners."

Art Berke, a spokesman for the magazine, said, "Over time, the indications were that people didn't realize there was this policy, so we felt it was important to do it."

For most of the magazine's history, which dates to 1964, the swimsuit layouts were featured prominently within regular issues of Sports Illustrated. The first stand-alone swimsuit edition was published in 1989 and it became a permanent annual event in 1997.

With an invitation to swap models in string bikinis for an extra issue, Steve Rushin and Rick Reilly have clearly emboldened the magazine's readers. So far, 25,829 paid subscribers, out of a total of 3.2 million, or 0.8 percent, have asked not to receive the swimsuit issue.

Last year, when the policy was not spelled out on the magazine's letters page, 21,065 subscribers chose not to receive the special edition, which sold 1.56 million issues on newsstands. Subscribers receive the swimsuit issue free; newsstand buyers pay US$5.99.

Subscribers still have time to say no to swimsuits: McDonell plans one more notification before the issue reaches newsstands on Feb. 15.

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