The February issue of Outside—on newsstands now!—has a picture of Lindsey Vonn on the cover, wearing…something. I’m not sure what. Plus, inside, a couple more pictures of Lindsey, and she’s skiing in one of them.
There’s also a profile of Lindsey that begins on page 42, which I wrote, and which Outside‘s Sam Moulton edited. I worked on the story for about five months, and it’s definitely the best story I’ve ever written. I’m incredibly proud to it see it published, and profoundly grateful to Sam for his edits, his patience, and his skill; and of course to Outside, for being one of a dwindling few national magazines with a great, substantive feature well.
Earlier this evening, Outside changed its Facebook profile picture to a .jpeg of the cover, and editorial director Alex Heard tweeted a link to the February table of contents, asking whether the cover is “beautiful or way too much?” There are now about 90 comments on Facebook, with maybe a 70/30 negative/positive split, and the expected number of angry demands to have subscriptions canceled. Basically, par for the course, and not yet near the level of outrage that I saw when Lolo Jones appeared last January wearing a couple strips of ribbon.
The subscription cancellations are silly, of course, as are the suggestions that Outside is going the way of Maxim—Outside has been putting beautiful people wearing not very much on its cover for at least 20 years [edit: David Quammen (!!) says 30 years], just ask Suzy Favor Hamilton, or Trey Hardee, and it is not insignificant that both Lolo and Lindsey agreed to be photographed like they were.
A couple people, though, objected to the main coverline, “60 Perfect Things: #1 Lindsey Vonn,” and I think they’re entirely right. She’s not a thing, she’s a person. That’s obvious. But on a cover that flirts openly with objectifying a woman, maybe calling her a thing could’ve been avoided.
And to that I’ll add a more personal dissent, which is that when people think about Lindsey and Outside, they’ll think about the cover, and not the story that I and Sam (and Alex and Grayson and Kyle) spent a long time getting right. This is what people think: Why is her bellybutton obscured? Why is she wearing a jacket from Back to the Future II? Why is she holding a jump rope? The answers are that this cover is more likely to sell on newsstands and is almost certain to generate controversy and buzz, which magazines love, and which gets me paid. And yet I can’t help feeling dispirited.
The standard response when people object to covers like these is that Outside and other men’s magazines also print racy pictures of dudes, and so a racy picture of a woman, even one that has nothing to do with the story, can’t be sexist. I guess I think that’s bullshit. Men don’t have to fight to get taken seriously as athletes, and women do.
I mean, I know it’s not a big deal—magazines do this all the time, and I’ve known it was coming for a couple months. But wouldn’t it be cool if in 2013 Outside could’ve run a cover of a hot, kick-ass skier, and just made her look like a hot, kick-ass skier? That would’ve been cool. This feels like a missed opportunity. Gulp.