In case you live under a rock and were unaware that 81-year-old Martha Stewart is this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model, now you know, and – you’re welcome. Or, whatever. Personally, I am a fan of Martha’s, a woman not unlike Hillary Clinton with regard to the outsized hatred she’s engendered in her life, although I’m not a watcher or reader of her shows, her books, her magazine, what have you (in fact, does she even have a show or magazine anymore?) so, basically, I’m not a fan fan. I simply admire her for being a smart, successful business woman with a great sense of humor, one who knows how to use the media in support of her businesses. Martha is also admirable for her resilience, for having survived, and thrived, despite pissing off a lot of tweeny lil men, enough to end up in prison for a pretty slim case of insider trading of a type that is so common in certain circles in NYC, and elsewhere, if the authorities wanted to they could spend all day and night every day prosecuting it. But, they don’t, and for good reason. 

As for Sports Illustrated. Who cares? Oh right, a lot of people do. I guess? A lot of men do. First of all, the magazine should be called Men’s Sports Illustrated, because the number of women and girls whose photos and stories inhabit the pages – even a half century after Title IX was passed – are miniscule. Miniscule. Tiny. Itty-bitty. Small. Few and far between. So, let’s be honest and call it like it is: Men’s Sports Illustrated. That a nearly nude 18 – 28-year-old female graces the cover annually, usually, creating that year’s best-selling issue – pardon me, 18 – 28-year old primarily white female – is y’know, not a big deal unless I guess you’re either the female in question ($$ka-ching! $$) or a person who enjoys looking at nearly naked females, and given the ubiquity of naked women and girls on the internet (so I’ve heard), maybe it’s time to move on? Maybe?

For a millennium, men have held the majority of the buying and selling power in the world, but people like Martha Stewart have been changing that for some time now, and – a recommended read – Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies outlines how that rising demographic of successful, experienced, often well-educated, working, middle and upper-class women are changing the overall paradigm, and not a minute too soon. I started The First Time Project because I was sick to death of reading and seeing stories of male sexual initiation. FFS, not another one! And, in the culture at large, women and girls are waking up to the power of having our own: our own money, stock portfolios, businesses, homes, investments, representation, ideas, choices, desires – and our own stories told, respected, believed, and acted upon. Do we still have a long way to go? Fuck yeah, we do.     

Does Martha Stewart’s appearance on the cover of SI’s breathlessly anticipated swimsuit issue change anything? Maybe, maybe not. But it is a conversation starter, and conversations are good, ain’t dey? Yes, yes dey are. For example, answer this: why the fuck is there a swimsuit issue, at all? And if so, why not a mostly naked man at least every other year, arising from the surf in Hawaii or whatever TF they shoot these things. I could go for that. Would advertisers flee? Would reader-subscribers? We won’t know until it’s tried, now will we? Mix it TF up. And of course we can discuss the male gaze, the taken for granted, assumed male point of view, and gaaaaaaaze. Who is holding the camera, who is editing these magazines with their dearth of female athletes portrayed, who is determining what and who is newsworthy in a world that is – however incrementally – changing; this is a subject for conversation, for discussion, for consciousness raising – the late 1960s equivalent of ‘woke’.  

I’ve also seen the response on social media to the cover, which response and conversation has tended to revolve around Martha’s ‘work’, as in Botox, face lifts, filler – as well as the amount of retouching required, retouching the editors do even to the 18-28-year-olds, btw, because no woman, not one, is perfect until she’s been heavily retouched. Interesting word that: re-touched, touched again. Hey, the most beautiful person I have ever known was my grandma, a woman I was named after and adored, a woman who adored me, although in a hands-off way because she and my grandfather believed in treating their grandchildren equally, as in equally hands-off. Sigh. Still, she was pretty special and – she had a face that most closely resembled a horse, or a mule – not, by any means, standard issue pretty. But oh, she was gorgeous, highly intelligent, with a lovely sense of humor. She was also incredibly patient and kind. I never, ever heard a word against anyone, ever, come out of her mouth. I intend to grow old as gracefully and naturally as my grandma, who was a role model extraordinaire – except perhaps for aping the whole not a bad word spoken part, which is probably, mostly not possible, but I’m trying! I might, I just might have a dollop of my to-the-grave grudge-holding paternal grandfather in me. I might. And, once again, other pals of mine are going another route, as they are free to choose for themselves how to age, and hooray for that. One good friend had some kind of Botox-like injection to her upper lip, and was unable to drink through a straw for a week, which made us both laugh, as she so loves her big slurpy iced coffee drinks. 

We all have to find our own way, and make our own choices, in a world that is often very cruel, very unforgiving and harsh, toward women as they age. As we raise our personal consciousnesses, as we let go of the ideas we had of ourselves as we once were, as we let go of cultural expectations, of fear, and of our precious egos (William Saroyan on the subject of aging, and death: everybody has to do it, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case), we make our way toward a wrinkled no matter what end. No one gets out of here alive, and no one really wants to get out young, regardless of the beautiful corpse concept. And truthfully, we are the same at age six as we are at age sixty, or ninety; our character, our temperament, our spirit, remains the same. 

Robert DeNiro just had another child with his current partner at 79. Seventy-nine. Whatever. What’s sauce for the goose…    

And if we must continue these outdated, ridiculous traditions, ones like an annual partly naked person on a sports magazine’s cover, let’s at least change it up, of which this latest gambit is step one. If we must, and – must we? Since Covid, since the weird last several years, can we not upend and alter a number of ancient, creaking, stale and moldy traditions – like inequality and unequal outcomes in healthcare and housing, like crippling student debt, like overpaying CEOs, while underpaying workers, teachers and nurses, like not having universal healthcare in the U.S., like not having paid family leave mandated federally, like paying too much for prescription drugs, like a broken congress, like the filibuster, like having only nine justices on the Supreme Court when we no longer have nine courts of appeals, but thirteen – and don’t you think thirteen is a nice uneven number? Ah! A woman can dream. The tradition of wedding bouquets and father of the bride dances can be toileted as well, in my opinion, as for white lace or satin dresses – puhleeeze – but I won’t get my hopes up, at least not for another decade or so.   

Hey, I say go for it, Miss Kostyra (Martha’s maiden name), do whatever floats your boat. She certainly can take the heat she is getting; she has handled it well for decades. Practically my favorite thing about Martha Stewart is that she is, actually, friends with Snoop Dogg, which is perfect. And she did start her career as a model, back in the day. Jersey Girls Rule. 

Here’s a link (below) to a survey of how many/often women – sans the swimsuit issue – have been featured on SI’s covers, it’s from 2013 but I figure nothing mich has changed since then, but again – a woman can hope.