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My Mixed Emotions Over the 56-Year-Old Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model

Yes, it's exciting that a woman our age is fit enough to make it into the annual skinfest, but Jeannie Ralston contemplates why it doesn't feel like progress.

As I read the news that 56-year-old Kathy Jacobs was one of the winners in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Search and is going to be in the next swimsuit issue, I couldn’t decide how I should feel. I mean, she is certainly gorgeous, and yes, this mother of a 23-year-old is as shapely and bikini-ready as any woman I’ve seen. Good on her.

At NextTribe, we’re always celebrating fitness and health and are happy that many women are in the best shape of their life at this age. Indeed, at 59, I think I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I certainly work out more. But, still, I could never look as good as Jacobs does in a swimsuit.

So, right off the bat I’m wondering if one of the emotions I’m feeling is a bit of envy. It would be fabulous to be muffin-top-free with a long, slim torso, but if my honesty takes me further, I realize that my jealousy juices don’t get worked up for much except for another writer’s turn of phrase or plot line, or–100 percent truthfulness here–another writer’s movie deal.

Read More: 9 Swimsuits for Women Over 50 That You’ll Actually Wear

Is This Progress?

I love that Jacobs, a former model, is such a fierce anti-ageism warrior. She reports that before the an interview in the Swimsuit Search, she was re-reading This Chair Rocks, a manifesto against ageism by NextTribe advisory board member Ashton Applewhite. She wanted to gather statistics about age discrimination to “plead my case for inclusion of women over 50.

“I am doing this to be part of a change in the views on women over 50, not only by society, but by ourselves,” Jacobs, who has been both a baking and a skincare entrepreneur, told Sports Illustrated.

But the reason I feel a bit queasy celebrating along with Jacobs is that I have long considered the SI swimsuit issue to be one of the skankiest, most disingenuous ploys in publishing. Soft-porn poses are somehow passed off as an All-American tradition. Do you know any woman who kneels on all fours in the surf with her butt lifted? I’m no prude, but it irks me to see women’s bodies still being displayed in 2020 for the masturbatory pleasure of geezers young and old.

The current incarnation of the swimsuit franchise is more cynical than ever. Sports Illustrated has turned the whole model search into an American-Idol-like elimination process and another revenue stream, finding body-positive cover by picking an older woman and a plus-sized woman or two to mingle in the videos and photo spreads with the young women whose bodies defy logic and genetics by being invitingly plump in the two cleavage-producing regions and impossibly long and lithe everywhere else.

But I do applaud Jacobs for using her exposure (pun intended) to advocate for self-acceptance and wider ideas of beauty. She told Sports Illustrated, “The message I want to yell out from the rooftops to women of all ages is: Do everything or nothing to yourself to feel great about yourself and don’t apologize for having or not having something done. Love yourself.”

I have no mixed feelings at all about this sentiment.

Read More: The Fabulous Gray-Haired Swimsuit Model On How She Got Her Start

By Jeannie Ralston


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