Are people used as objects or proper representation?

By Sydney Zelenak

Welcome to the Western world – the U.S.A, in specific – where everyone and everything that seems exotic fascinates us. So much so that in the recently released 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, models traveled to each of the seven continents around the world to pose almost-nude next to native human beings.

This issue has raised quite a bit of controversy across the globe, creating a battle between art and basic human respect.

Not only are the models being exploited sexually by the media, but the people placed in the background are used as mere objects complementing the main attraction. The natives are there to represent their country, not to be commended and paid for appearing in the photos. How fitting: a man clad in nothing but a loin cloth and spears across his shoulder to represent his African country.

Do the models even realize that they’re posing with real people? To me, the bikini-clad-woman in one particular photo (see photo) looks ridiculous, and the photos hurt the company and photographers, especially with this bad publicity.

I question what was going through the heads of the photographers of this Sports Illustrated when they stood with huge cameras and lights next to random people in the deserts of Africa and the streets of China. Do they really believe that when we think of Africa or India, only stereotypical images of black men in huts or of snake charmers come to mind?

Here’s a great idea: let’s make a statement of diversity and showcase these people and places by obscurely placing them in our fashion photo shoots! The designers seem to emphasize the colorful culture of countries around the world, and very often in magazines such as Nylon, J. Crew, and Vogue we have seen the play on other cultures as a glamorized spectacle.

Did Sports Illustrated go too far by traveling to each of the seven continents to find exotic people (and penguins) to use as props? Or am I just over-exaggerating? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

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