Women everywhere are celebrating the release of Sports Illustrated's 2017 Swimsuit Edition, for squeezed in among the innumerable images of slender young models is an aberration: a picture of a voluptuous woman wearing a bikini which doesn't conceal the stretch-marks blooming across her stomach.
This is Denise Bidot, a so-called plus-sized model, though probably average-sized in reality, posing in swimwear designed by the plus-size clothing brand Lane Bryant.
At first glance, this image is significant, for though 'bigger' women have featured in the magazine before, their flaws have been airbrushed into oblivion. The image of Bidot represents womanhood in all its flawed, natural glory: soft belly, broad hips, and those silvery stretch marks, the calling card of pregnancy.
Women, most of them long excluded from advertisers' narrow concept of 'beauty', have rushed to compliment Bidot on her gloriousness, on her rebellious brand of sexiness. They are part of a movement that is speaking out, and often disrobing to prove their point, against the marginalisation of women who don't fit into the dictatorial confines of what society has determined to be attractive.
It's understandable that these women are rejoicing at the inclusion of an un-retouched, representative body in a magazine as iconic as this, given the slew of one-dimensional, provocatively posed, heavily photoshopped models used to represent them in the media.
And it is remarkable that a 63-year-old woman — the preternaturally youthful Christie Brinkley — has also posed for this edition, for she does so amid a sea of almost unvaryingly youthful faces and bodies.
But this response is highly problematic, for it salutes a publication that objectifies women for widening the definition of those it is willing to objectify. It suggests that women accept without question — indeed, encourage — the idea that their most important attribute is their body.
It forgets that the apparently subversive image is really just a clever marketing tool employed by Lane Bryant: the company's #IMNOANGEL campaign — a dig at Victoria's Secret's hyper-sexualised 'angels' — aims to redefine society's notion of 'sexy' by declaring all women sexy — and so earning undying loyalty from women who've been told for too long that they are not.
"As deliciously subversive as body acceptance campaigns are, they perpetuate the idea that women are, fundamentally, objects to be assessed. They keep women focused on their physical being — and the response of others to it."
In expanding its repertoire of women's bodies (which must still adhere to certain criteria — relatively slim waists, lush hair, conventionally beautiful faces), the magazine lures people into the trap of believing it is somehow committing a radical feminist act. In fact, it is deeply, deeply sexist: it pays little attention to female athletes, featuring them as the primary or solo image on just 2.5 per cent of its regular covers in the years 2000 to 2011; it eschews female athletes in favour of models (bar a few exceptions) in its swimsuit edition.
Most gallingly, the magazine has further patronised women by marking the launch of its latest swimwear edition with a campaign encouraging them to post pictures of their bikini bodies on Instagram, 'because you should feel beautiful no matter what you wear'. If a woman is declared beautiful, they seem to believe, her life's purpose will have been fulfilled.
But herein lies the absurdity of it all: it is not a woman's job to be beautiful. It is not her job to be sexy. It is not her responsibility to remove her clothes so as to prove that she is beautiful or sexy. It is especially not her job, when she knows that she falls outside of the west's circumscribed notion of what beautiful looks like, to remove her clothes so as to convince onlookers that there exists something desirable within the contours of her imperfect body.
For as deliciously subversive as body acceptance campaigns are, they perpetuate the idea that women are, fundamentally, objects to be assessed and approved of (or not). They keep women focused on their physical being — and the response of others to it — at the expense of their intellect. They make room for more women — bigger women, older women, women of colour, disabled women — inside the tiny cage of acceptability that has been built around them, rather than encouraging them to break free from it entirely.
And they misunderstand the very essence of beauty and sexiness: they can never be manufactured, nor declared in oneself, for they exist only in the eye of the beholder.
Catherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.