My sister-in-law tells me Martha Stewart is on the cover of Sports Illustrated and she’s eighty-one, and hands me her phone so I can see it, and so I say, “Well, what am I looking at?” Putting aside the fact that I didn’t know Martha Stewart was out of prison and thought they did the photo shoot there—and was genuinely disappointed they hadn’t—I was trying to figure out what I was looking at.
“Look at her. Doesn’t she look great?” my sister-in-law says. “So beautiful.”
“What part?” I say.
“All of her. She looks so good. I mean, if I can look half as good when I’m her age—”
“Boat’s already sailed on that,” my brother says from the living room. “You missed the cutoff, there.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” I say. “They got the young ones in there, too, right? Still? Showing off their money-makers?”
“Well, yeah,” my sister-in-law says.
“Then what the hell are we talking about? Because you know what I see? I see airbrushing, Photoshop tools, perfectly placed lighting, more Photoshop, makeup, hairstyling, tropical resort. Ten grand. Maybe twenty. I don’t see no eighty-one year old woman I’d see at the Costco. I see the people who put women on Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers to sell Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.”
“Then doesn’t it prove that she does actually look good?” my sister-in-law says.
“Maybe. If it were an eighty-one year old woman on the cover.”
“That’s Martha Stewart,” she says. “She’s eighty-one years old. Check Wikipedia. Don,” she says to my brother.
“I’m watching the thing, here. Leave me out of it.”
“That ain’t no eighty-one year old woman on that cover. It ain’t real. Even if it was real, she’d be in the ninety-nine point nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine-thousandth percentile of the whole of octogenarianism. Besides, no one’s gonna be talking about this in a week. It ain’t a thing. If Sports Illustrated wanted to put eighty-one year old women on the cover, it wouldn’t be called Sports Illustrated. It’d be GGilfs Demonstrative. It’d be called the AARP annual swimsuit edition.”
“The wh-what what?” my sister-in-law says.
“And besides that,” I ended, “you think that doesn’t do more damage to the way little girls are gonna look at themselves than the other magazines they read, like…the one? Or that other one?”
“You don’t even know what they’re called,” my sister-in-law says.
“Little girls aren’t reading the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue,” my brother says.
“No one’s reading the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue,” my sister-in-law says.
“Here, watch. Lorie!” Their teenage daughter came into the room.
“What?” she says.
“Get over here. Look at this. Tell me what you think. No no, don’t swipe at it. The cover!”
“What about it?” she says.
“Look at it!” She looks it over. “What do you have to say to that?”
“Ew,” she says.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” my sister-in-law says.
“A kid looks at that and doesn’t think I want to be that broad when I’m that age. She doesn’t even think I don’t wanna be that broad when I’m that age. She doesn’t know what to think, the whole thing is so strange. She just looks at it and goes, ‘Ew.’ It’s the sound of a person’s mind being monkey-wrenched, a thought process being bent in a whole other direction—that’s the onomatopoeia of it. Ew.
“And the rest of us? We don’t see nothing positive in that. Not that it’s inherently negative, say what you will. It’s a ruse. A PR stunt. We just open up the magazine to start looking at exposed, tanned, twenty year old T’s and A’s. And L’s and T-H’s. And BB’s. And F’s, if you’re into that kind of thing.”
“F’s,” my brother says.
“That’ve been Photoshopped, made-up, hair-done, brushed, dusted, oiled, moisturized, underexposed, depilated, you name it. But, see, that’s an illusion people have come to expect.
“I mean, what good can you possibly say of this? ‘It’s going to empower women to…’—nope. ‘It’s going to inspire young girls to…’—nope. ‘It’s going to motivate seventy-year-old women to…’—nope. ‘Men are going to buy it because…’—nope. ‘Seventy-year-old men are going buy it because…’—maybe. But that’s all you got.”
“Remind me never to show you the pictures of our summer vacation again,” my sister-in-law says.