Is this really how 81 looks? Martha Stewart becomes oldest Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover

Entrepreneur and celebrity domestic goddess Martha Stewart has become the latest swimsuit cover for Sports Illustrated. Aged 81 years old, she is officially the oldest cover star featured by the magazine. She hopes to break ageist attitudes and inspire women.

Stewart was chosen alongside three other women to appear on the cover of the magazine. Actress Megan Fox, musician Kim Petras and model Brooks Nader were also featured.

The photoshoot took place in the Dominican Republic with photographer Ruven Afanador. The cover shows Stewart seated in a low-cut white swimsuit and with her arms covered by an orange cover-up. She’s tanned, relaxed and smiling and looks about half her biological age.

Is this really how 81 looks? Martha Stewart becomes oldest Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover

The Sports Illustrated cover shot of Stewart. (Ruven Afanador/Sports Illustrated)

“I hope this cover inspires you to challenge yourself to try new things,” Stewart told the magazine, adding, “I don’t think about age very much, but I thought that this is kind of historic and that I better look really good.” And she really does look good.

So good, in fact, that I can’t help but wonder how much ‘work’ she’s had done and how much Photoshop is happening. Her breasts look remarkably perky for an 81-year-old, and there’s no sign of sun damage or a wrinkle in sight. As a woman half her age, I’m not sure whether I feel inspired or depressed.

As a portrait photographer, I think it’s a very good image. We all want our subjects to look and feel beautiful, no matter what their age. Additionally, this sends a positive message that age really is just a number. Clearly, Martha looks after herself.

But the question is, how honest is this image? And will it really inspire others to break out of sexist and ageist attitudes? Some countries, such as Norway and now France, require publications to say if an image has been altered with Photoshop, for example.

Let’s also not forget that Martha Stweart is one of America’s wealthiest women, valued at around $400 million. I reckon I’d look pretty great with that bank balance! Most 81 years olds are happy with a hot meal and a visit from the grandkids. Many are facing severe mobility issues and poverty. They aren’t worrying about how they look in a swimsuit.

Let’s not pump up this cover as a ‘win.’ Underneath the glamour, it’s really just another flaunting of privilege and extreme wealth. If she could look that good on an average state pension, then I might be inspired.

What do you think? Is it ethical to make a subject look drastically younger than they really are?

Cover Image: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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