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The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is published annually by American magazine Sports Illustrated and features female fashion models, celebrities and athletes wearing swimwear in various locales around the world. The highly coveted cover photograph has been considered as the arbiter of supermodel succession. The issue carries advertising that, in 2005, amounted to US$35 million in value. First published in 1964, it is credited with making the bikini, invented in 1946, a legitimate piece of apparel.
Since 1964, the issue has been published every February. Starting 2019, the issue was made available in May.
The swimsuit issue was invented by Sports Illustrated editor Andre Laguerre to fill the winter months, a typically slow point in the sporting calendar. He asked fashion reporter Jule Campbell to go on a shoot to fill space, including the cover, with a beautiful model. The first issue, released in 1964, entailed a cover featuring Babette March and a five-page layout. Campbell soon became a powerful figure in modeling and molded the issue into a media phenomenon by featuring "bigger and healthier" California women and printing the names of the models with their photos, beginning a new supermodel era. In the 1950s, a few women appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but the 1964 issue is considered to be the beginning of the current format known as the Swimsuit Issue. The issue that got the most letters was the 1978 edition. In 1997, Tyra Banks was the first black woman on the cover. Since 1997, the swimsuit issue has been a stand-alone edition, separate from the regular weekly magazine. Its best selling issue was the 25th Anniversary Issue with Kathy Ireland on the cover in 1989.
Female athletes have appeared in swimsuit shoots. Steffi Graf appeared in 1997. In the 2003 issue, tennis player Serena Williams and figure skater Ekaterina Gordeeva were featured inside the magazine. In 2016, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey became the first female athlete to appear on the cover. However, Anna Kournikova appeared in an inset on the 2004 cover, and had a photo spread within its pages.
In 2005, Olympic gold medalists Amanda Beard and Jennie Finch, along with Lauren Jackson and Venus Williams, were featured. Maria Sharapova appeared in an inset on the 2006 cover and had a spread inside. In spring 2006, Sports Illustrated chose music as the theme for the 2007 issue. Swimsuit editor Diane Smith wanted Grammy-winner Beyoncé Knowles to pose. In 2006, Beyoncé launched a swimsuit line under her House of Deréon clothing label. Beyoncé Knowles became the first singer, and first non-model non-athlete, to appear on the cover in 2007.
For the 2010 issue, four female Winter Olympians appeared in swimsuits: Clair Bidez, Lacy Schnoor, Hannah Teter, and Lindsey Vonn. They were joined by tennis player Ana Ivanovic. Criticism of Ivanovic's appearance in the magazine shortly surfaced, as the Serb was suffering a decline in form and confidence and subsequently dropped out of the WTA's Top 50 a month after appearing in the magazine. However, since November 2010, Ivanovic has re-entered the World's Top 20 and regained her old form and confidence. Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke appeared in the 2013 issue after having gained notoriety for her warm-up dance routine, which went viral on YouTube.
Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki appeared in the 2015 issue. She is an active player, formerly world number one, and was photographed at Captiva Island in the Gulf of Mexico by Walter Iooss, Jr. Top ranked Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard appeared for the first time in the 2017 issue. She is an active player who has achieved a top five rank in tennis in 2014.
In 2021, Naomi Osaka became the first black athlete to appear not only inside but also on the cover of the SI swimsuit Issue.
To some people, the magazine is an acceptable exhibition of female sexuality not out of place on a coffee table. The swimsuit edition is controversial both with moralists who subscribe for sports news content as well as with those who feel that the focus on fashion and swimsuit modeling is inappropriate for a sports magazine. Feminists have expressed that "the Swimsuit Issue promotes the harmful and dehumanizing concept that women are a product for male consumption".
At times, subscriptions have been cancelled by subscribers. The 1978 edition, remembered for its fishnet bathing suit made famous by Cheryl Tiegs, resulted in 340 cancellations.Sports Illustrated makes the controversy a form of entertainment with the issue two weeks after the swimsuit edition packed with complainants such as shocked parents and troubled librarians. As of 2005, the number of cancellations has reportedly declined. Nonetheless, to avoid controversy, Sports Illustrated has, since 2007, offered its subscribers the option of skipping the swimsuit edition for a one issue credit to extend their subscription.
The swimsuit issue was once predominantly shot in one country per year. As the issue has grown in size, the number of locations has also risen.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Sports Illustrated allowed television specials to be aired which were later released as video versions of its Swimsuit Issue. The first releases were available on VHS or Laser Disc (LD), and later releases have been available on DVD.
In 1989, The Making of the Sports Illustrated 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue was a television documentary by HBO which later became available on VHS by Maysles Films.
In 1992, a behind-the-scenes made-for-HBO special documentary was released on VHS as the Sports Illustrated Behind the Scenes: Official Swimsuit Video.
In 1993, Sports Illustrated: The 1993 Swimsuit Video was released by HBO films.
The Sports Illustrated 1994 Swimsuit Issue Video was released on video by Dakota North Entertainment. Since then, the annual video version of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has been called the Swimsuit Video.
In 1995, Sports Illustrated began distributing television specials based on the issue, titled Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Special. The hour-long specials have aired on Spike TV and TNT and Minisodes of several specials from 2002 to 2004 are available on Crackle.
In 2004, the Sports Illustrated 40th Anniversary Swimsuit Special: American Beauty featured videos of the swimsuit beauties at various US locations, some of which are not usually thought of as beaches: e.g., the host Melissa Keller and Marisa Miller at the grain elevator in Bouton, Iowa, and on a farm near Perry, Iowa. The more recent videos have included some "uncensored" scenes.
Prior to the release of the 2011 issue, DirectTV aired a preview special on the 101 Network, revealing the models in that year's edition. The show was hosted by Dan Patrick and Mallory Snyder.
In 2017, the issue hosted its first ever open casting call where aspirants were asked to submit a 60-second video on Instagram. The three-part series Sports Illustrated Swim Search which documented the first ever open casting call with Camille Kostek as a winner (becoming a cover model in 2019) was made available on SI TV and Amazon Prime Video. The following year, the model search held an in-person open casting call in Miami, and has been held annually since.
In 2019, the magazine held a two-day exhibition in Miami which gave "fans the chance to experience the world of SI Swim like never before through an array of one-of-a-kind installations, photo experiences," panels and talks among others.
Campbell, Jule, ed. (1995). The Best of the Swimsuit Supermodels. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781883013226. Published in both hardcover and softcover editions.
Editors of Sports Illustrated (1997). Around the World with the Swimsuit Supermodels. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. LCCN99191547. OCLC41211842.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (1999). The Best of the Swimsuit Supermodels 1964-1999. New York: Time, Inc.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) Collector's edition magazine.
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2002). Sports Illustrated Presents Ultimate Swimsuit 1964-2002. New York: Time, Inc.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2011). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: Fantasy Islands. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781603202091. OCLC755072628.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2014). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: Idyllic Shores. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781618931214. OCLC870199673.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2010). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: Paradise Found. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781603201537. OCLC751578018.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2009). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Portfolio: The Explorers Edition. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781603200899. OCLC658199994.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2013). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN978-1618930811. OCLC827082812.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Editors of Sports Illustrated (2008). Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: The Complete Portfolio. New York: Sports Illustrated Books. ISBN9781603200417. OCLC502263177.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Hoffman, Steven (executive director) (2001). Sports Illustrated Knockouts: Five Decades of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Photography. Foreword by Frank Deford. New York: Sports Illustrated. ISBN9781929049479.