Opinions

Why Every Woman Should Celebrate the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (Yes, I’m Serious)

Each year, shortly after we have made and already begun to break our New Year's resolutions, Americans become captivated by sports' most competitive contest. No I am not referring to the Super Bowl, but the contest for who will grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Landing the cover is supposed to be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl of the modeling world (or something like that), credited with launching, or at least elevating, the careers of some of modeling's most famous and enduring names, among them Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks. While it's arguable that it elicits very different reactions from men and women, with the New York Times describing it as "the dream book of adolescent males and the bane of feminists," I'm one feminist who believes that there's a lot for women to celebrate about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This year's cover girl is Kate Upton, who before receiving the honor was best known for appearing on youtube doing the "Dougie." (If you are scratching your head asking, "What's the Dougie?" click here. ) Now she's known as the next big thing. And I do mean big. Upton is not your typical model. Though her official weight is hard to pin down, there have been endless references to her "curves" which, let's face it, usually means cup size when referring to models, actresses and whatever it is that Kim Kardashian allegedly does for a living. But not in Upton's case. As one friend said refreshingly of Upton 'She's not your typical model... She will eat anything." Lengthy profiles in outlets like the Times and the Daily Mail have chronicled her management team's, seemingly uphill battle to establish her and her ample assets, in modeling's incredibly shrinking world, where a size 4 makes you chubby and a size 10 makes you borderline plus size. Some of the vitriol aimed at Upton -- much of it by women no less -- reinforces the notion that even in the non-high fashion world of swimsuit and lingerie modeling, there is little tolerance for bodies that dare to look -- gasp! -- healthy and not borderline skeletal. Speaking of Upton, who has already drawn comparisons to legendary curvy (all over) beauties like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Neophitou, who helps cast the Victoria's Secret runway show said "We would never use" someone like Upton, describing her looks as comparable to those of the half-naked "glamour" models popular in European tabloids. Underneath photos of Upton at her model heaviest -- which was still thinner than most of us -- anonymous commenters referred to her as a "cow." (No, I'm not joking.) Her own agent at A-list firm IMG has said that colleagues were initially against signing her, owing to her non-traditional look. Upton's triumph comes at an interesting time in the fashion world. Katie Halchishick, a former plus-size model, recently launched Natural Model Management. The agency specializes in models who are not plus-size or underweight but a healthy 6 to size 10. Halchishick was inspired after her own successful career as a plus-size model came to a screeching halt when she began dating a personal trainer and lost fifty pounds, and subsequently ended up losing most of her clients. Down to a healthy size 6 she found there were virtually zero opportunities for a model who was above a size 2 but below a size 14, a sentiment echoed by one of the few plus-size supermodels Crystal Renn. Or should I say former plus-size supermodel? Renn, one of the few plus-size models to find mainstream success in high fashion magazines and with top designers, has struggled with the industry's mercurial weight specifications for years. She has openly discussed battling an eating disorder earlier in her career, but recently landed the ultimate validation that at her current weight, which is not stick-thin, but healthy, she looks absolutely fabulous. She appears alongside Kate Upton in the current issue of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Of the honor, Renn said, "I have been a double-zero to a 16 even, for a bit.... Now to settle at a [size] six or an eight, it's a really interesting place to be because there are very few sixes or eights." Her statement echoes those of one of the most famous supermodels ever. Cindy Crawford has expressed doubts that she, and some of her peers from the heyday of the "supermodel" in the 90's would have made it today, because most of them were a size 6. And that's why I, speaking as a woman and a feminist, am actually a big fan of Sports Illustrated including its swimsuit issue. While the rest of the modeling world has increasingly celebrated body types that look like a 16-year-old girl's head placed on top of a 13-year-old boy's body, Sports Illustrated has continuously celebrated healthy female bodies. Before the eye-rolling begins, yes, I know that many of those bodies have had a lot more in common with Pamela Anderson than, say, Serena Williams, but Sports Illustrated has also featured a number of beautiful, healthy-looking female athletes in the swimsuit issue, along with a number of male athletes and their beautiful, healthy-looking wives. Some of my favorite photos over the years have featured these women, who don't look like supermodels, but do look beautiful, healthy, happy and like real people. Not some ridiculous, undernourished, overly airbrushed myth of what real people are supposed to look like. (Click here to see some of my favorites.) Based on responses from teen girls regarding questions about their body image, it's arguable the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue could end up having the positive impact on young girls that the Dove real women campaign tried, but some in the industry, believe failed to. The responses illustrate that while teen girls consider most models underweight, they consider themselves overweight. Yet they would still rather look like the images they see in popular culture because while models may be underweight, they also seem glamorous, or at least their lives do. The Dove Real Women campaign exuded a lot of things -- confidence among them -- but glamour it did not. So maybe, just maybe, seeing real women looking, happy, healthy and glamorous, bikini and all, may send a message to some girls and women that you don't have to be underweight and unhealthy to live a great, or in the words of Sheila E., "Glamorous Life." Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.

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Our Black History Month Series: Organizing for the Jena Six

School Fight

Our Black History Month Series: Organizing for the Jena Six

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Don’t Talk About Whitney, Focus on Yourself

While folks like Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, Maya Angelou, Voncile Mallory (my mother) and others are gracefully aging, we younger folks aren’t doing as well. Following the untimely passing of legendary singer and actress Whitney Houston, many seem fixated on her cause of death, alleged troubles and pretty much anything negative they can latch on to. RELATED: When Beloved Icons Become Black History SEE OUR FULL WHITNEY HOUSTON COVERAGE HERE CHECK OUT OUR BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Merck CEO Breaks Ground In Business World But instead of focusing on how she died, we need to pay attention to how we live. When did you last jot down a list of your own demons? What does it mean to be a real, genuine friend to someone? Though we don’t know definitively what cut this multitalented woman’s life so short, we do know that life brings trials and tribulations for all of us and it’s time for a serious global intervention. When was the last time you saw a friend doing something crazy and didn’t say a word? Why is it that we are taught to “mind our own business” and keep quiet even though we know somebody is engaged in destructive behavior? Not paying child support, cheating on a spouse, not taking care of kids, always borrowing money, constantly looking for the next hustle instead of getting a job… these are some of the things that if they don’t kill you, they’ll kill those around you. Let’s not pretend that they don’t exist. Instead of just explaining away our issues, why not tackle them head on by first and foremost admitting that they occur. We simply cannot go around turning our backs to things like substance abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling or any other form of troubling behavior. If you know someone suffering from depression, step in. If you think a friend is drinking too much or taking drugs, you have got to speak up. If a young person is talking about guns and violence, please, please, please do something. Society often teaches us to be selfish, to go for our own. And though there’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high and achieving your goals, we cannot leave each other behind in the process. You’d be surprised how many of our co-workers, neighbors, friends or loved ones are suffering through a major battle, and they’re just one intervention away from a breakthrough. What are we doing to prevent him/her from heading down the wrong path? Instead of expressing regret after someone is gone, let’s take a hard look at how we’re living and how we’re treating the people in our lives. We may never know the extent of Whitney’s battles. But we know she’s gone at 48 and that ain’t right. The lesson is that we must deal with our own lives and figure out what it means to be an honest friend to someone else. It doesn’t mean being there when things are great, or hanging out when it’s time to have fun. A true friend says something and takes action when they see things are wrong. A true friend is there when times are tough. A true friend intervenes before it’s too late. A true friend cares less about the friendship and more about the friend. SEE OUR FULL WHITNEY HOUSTON COVERAGE HERE CHECK OUT MORE BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGERS: Olympic Medalist Tries To Prevent Black Kids From Drowning Former NFL Player Fights Lung Cancer To Honor Late Wife

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Tell Harris Publications: Fire Vanessa Satten

XXL

Tell Harris Publications: Fire Vanessa Satten

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Don’t Discount the Underdog

Earlier this week, die-hard Knicks supporter and filmmaker Spike Lee joined my MSNBC show 'Politics Nation' to discuss a little non-political news: basketball is back with a vengeance. Thanks to the impeccable, almost unbelievable skills of 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, the sport and the Knicks themselves have seen a shocking resurrection from fans who grew increasingly exhausted of lock outs and negotiations. The timing couldn't be better; the story, some say, is 'Cinderella-like.' I prefer calling it a tale of perseverance; a narrative about the underdog triumphing after being consistently discounted. Perhaps, most importantly, it's a lesson for all of us to never look down upon the marginalized. Some people believe life is a lottery, that if you're born into the correct circumstances, you will excel. I view life as an opportunity, that given an equal shot and a level playing field, anyone can achieve their dreams and reach excellence. Lin's rags-to-riches story is about more than just basketball. Continuously dismissed by teams -- including his own -- and literally sleeping on his brother's couch in Manhattan, the Taiwanese American is living proof that the underdog can and will win. After being benched for so long, Lin is finally given a chance by default and goes on to save the Knicks and bring such renewed craze to the game that it's virtually impossible to find any available tickets at Madison Square Garden for the season. The Harvard grad who nobody believed had such fantastic sports skills now has the fastest-growing athletic brand according to Forbes -- $14 million and rising. Every day we walk past or ignore another Lin -- people who may not look like what society deems a 'winner.' People who have been silenced or beaten down by injustice. People who are suppressed with unequal access to quality education, employment, fair housing and safe neighborhoods. People who may be working multiple jobs, struggling to feed their children or figuring out how they will pay their rent. But given the right circumstances, all of these folks would shine just like Lin; there's a Lin in every school, church, job, etc. And just like Lin, you may be ignored, but it's vital to never lose sight of your own strengths and your own abilities. No matter how many times they try to force you down, rise and stand tall yet again. Keep fighting until the world knows your worth. There's an old saying that teaches us to be the best at whatever it is we're doing. So if you're mopping floors, do it to perfection. If you're driving a bus, be the best bus driver there ever was. If you're teaching kids, prove that your knowledge can make a difference in someone's life. If you're an artist, practice, practice and practice until they can no longer overlook your talents. Regardless of what you're doing in life and how many doors have been slammed in your face, stay on track because sooner rather than later, your good work and gifts cannot be hidden. And just like Lin, the right opportunity will create the perfect circumstance for you to showcase your genius to the world. And for those that would like to easily ignore or further disenfranchise people, just remember that the person you think may look like an easy target may very well be the one dunking over your head tomorrow.

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Bolling tells Rep. Waters: "Step away from the crack pipe"

Bolling tells Rep. Waters: "Step away from the crack pipe"

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Bank Settlement Leaves Much to be Desired

bank-of-america-logo

Bank settlement leaves much to be desired

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10 Facts About Contraception (And How It Changed the World) That Every Man and Woman Should Know

A few years ago at a book signing with fellow congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared an anecdote about the sometimes strange experience of being a woman in the still predominantly man's world known as Congress. She recalled how early in her career she and another female elected official found themselves as the only women regularly dining at a table full of male elected officials. The men rarely acknowledged their female counterparts or asked their opinion on any political or policy issue. But one day the subject turned to childbirth. Being that she and the other female official were the only two real authorities on the subject (since they were the only two at the table who had actually given birth), Pelosi presumed that this would present an opportunity for their voices to be heard and valued by their male colleagues. Imagine her surprise when two of the men began speaking over one another to share their stories of "being there" for the birth of their children, before moving on to another topic before the women ever had a chance to speak. I remember chuckling, along with the other women in the room, at how silly men in power used to behave, and being relieved that things have changed so much. Apparently we laughed too soon. Not only has the fight over access to contraception been led entirely by men (President Obama on one side, Sen. Marco Rubio and House Speaker John Boehner on the other), but a recent report has confirmed that the voices that have dominated this debate in media have been overwhelmingly male, as well. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin male guests and commentators outnumbered females in discussions of the contraception controversy on news programs. Sen. Rick Santorum's inaccurate remarks regarding the cost of contraception served as a powerful reminder of the severe handicap our political discourse suffers when women are not permitted to speak for themselves on the issues that directly affect them. Before contraception was widely available, there were far fewer women able to do just that, because of the physical, emotional, and financial demands that giving birth to and raising sometimes more than a dozen children (something my great-grandmother did) required. Maybe that's the point. Maybe some of these elected officials fighting so hard to make contraception as inaccessible as possible want to return to the good old days when contraception was virtually impossible to come by, and therefore men were able to rule the world and, more importantly, their households. Men were able to enjoy absolute power in the legal system and in domestic life without fear that a woman could carve out some semblance of financial and political independence that would enable her to engage in such scandalous behavior as running for office or leaving an abusive relationship. Because after all, where would a woman with six, or seven, or eight small children to care for really go, even if she had a good reason to? With that in mind, below is a list of the most powerful ways contraception has impacted and continues to impact the world, from issues such as literacy to life expectancy rates of women. I'm sure there are more than 10, so please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below. 1. In countries with the highest fertility rates , women have the shortest life expectancies. Women in Sierra Leone live half as long as women in developed countries and 10 years less than their African counterparts in some African countries, and no, this is not merely due to the history of civil unrest. One in eight Sierra Leonean women die in childbirth. In other countries like Chad , where women are likely to give birth to six or more children, women are lucky to live to age 55. 2. In countries with the highest fertility rates, women have the fewest rights. In countries like Niger and Mali , both of which fall in the top 10 for countries with the greatest number of births per woman, women and young girls can still be forced into marriages. A recent case in Niger documented a 9-year-old girl forced to "marry" a 50-year-old man. 3. Countries with low contraception usage have the lowest number of women who can read. In Afghanistan, which continues to have one of the highest fertility rates in the world , and where contraception knowledge and access remains limited (and women give birth to an average of six children), 87 percent of women cannot read. In Sierra Leone the number is 71 percent . 4. Men who physically abuse their partners fear contraception. (Think about that for a moment.) A national study of more than 3,000 abused women conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that one in four said their partners sabotaged, hid, or prohibited use of birth control as a form of control in an already abusive relationship. These findings confirmed those of a number of smaller studies . 5. When contraception availability goes down, abortion rates go up. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, but for the last decade the nation's capital, Manila, has been at the heart of a battle over contraception. Contraception was stigmatized and difficult to access prior to 2000, when contraception was prohibited altogether by an executive order . (It is not unusual for women who have come of age in the city during the time period of the ban to have more than 10 children .) While the abortion rate in the country has barely changed in recent years, the rate in Manila increased by more than 10 percent . So has the number of women dying of complications from illegal abortions. 6. Countries with the highest fertility rates have the highest poverty rates. Ten of the countries with the world's highest fertility rates are located in Africa. Between 1990 and 2001, the African continent experienced what is deemed "extreme population growth." The number of those on the continent living in "extreme poverty" ballooned from 231 million to 318 million . 7. Before contraception* American women were statistically more likely to die in childbirth than they are today. At the start of the 20th century, the maternal mortality rate in America was approximately 65 times higher than it is today. During the 17th and 18th centuries, long before modern contraception became widely available, the average American woman gave birth to between five and eight children. Her likelihood of dying in childbirth increased with every birth. The number of women who died in childbirth or its immediate aftermath was one in every eight women. *Forms of contraception have been available since ancient times (click here to see ancient forms of contraception), but contraception did not become widely available in the U.S. until the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. Click here to read about Griswold and other key contraception cases.) 8. Before contraception men greatly outnumbered American women in colleges. Today, women outnumber men. In 1960, just before the Griswold decision, only 35 percent of college students were women. Today women represent at least 57 percent of students on most college campuses. 9. Before contraception there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Katherine Graham became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she became Chairman of the Washington Post Company in 1973. She inherited the publication from her husband, who had inherited the role from Graham's father, but Graham succeeded far beyond anyone's expectations. Since her trailblazing ascent, more than a dozen other women have reached the highest rung on the corporate ladder with a record-breaking 18 women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2011, the largest number in history. 10. Before contraception women were virtually invisible in Congress. Just before contraception became officially legal in the U.S. (1965), there were 20 women in the House of Representatives and one female senator, Margaret Chase Smith. None of them were women of color. (Patsy Mink, an Asian American, was elected to her first term the year Griswold was decided by the Supreme Court.) Today there are 76 women in the House. Fourteen of them are African American, four of them are Asian American, and seven are Latina. There are 17 women in the Senate. And for the record, I doubt any of them want to return to the days when men spoke and voted for them, or for any of the rest of us blessed with ovaries. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.

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Bank Settlement: $25 Billion Down, $675 Billion to Go

This week a $25 billion settlement was announced in which big banks pay up for a portion of their bad deeds in the home foreclosure crisis. Everyone is trying to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal. Here is how I score it. This deal represents small progress on a small problem. Now it's time to make big progress on the big problem. Don't count on finding many good points in the deal itself, because there aren't a lot. In fact, the main win can be found in what's NOT in the deal. A truly horrible deal would have let the banks write a small check and then seal the door on all further investigations and pursuits of accountability. This deal does NOT do that. Because this settlement limits legal immunity for banks, this deal does not automatically let the banks off the hook for all of their wrong-doing. Except for a few issues like robo-signing, state attorneys general can still fight for more compensation and relief for the banks' victims. Government officials can proceed with investigating and prosecuting banks for their role in crashing the economy and the housing market. In other words, the door is still open to solve the much bigger problems we face. Our fight for justice can, and will, continue. That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse. That said, there is a reason why many progressives and housing advocates are furious, and why many struggling homeowners are left wondering, "How does this help me?" Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors. A number of homeowners will get some cash payments, but the amounts are negligible compared to the pain and injustice they have experienced. The actual total cash paid out by the banks is only $5 billion dollars, to be split among the nation's largest banks -- hardly a stiff penalty considering that the six largest banks in the U.S. paid $144 billion in bonuses last year. And enforcement mechanisms remain murky. We must not forget the more than 14 million homeowners (one in five) whose homes are underwater, beneath a crushing total $700 billion in negative equity. We must not forget the more than 4 million families who have lost their homes. We must not forget the millions of families who are in some form of foreclosure proceedings on this very day. These are the Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer. They are worried today, like yesterday, whether they will still have a home to live in tomorrow. They are the ones who must choose every month whether to pay bills or to feed their children. Here are three things that must happen next: 1) The U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general must investigate and prosecute banks more aggressively than ever, at a much larger scale than anything that has happened to date. 2) We must force banks to make massive principal reduction of hundreds of billions of dollars, to immediately relieve the 14 million homeowners in the country who have underwater mortgages. 3) We must change laws and regulations to prevent this kind of crisis and fraud from ever happening again. Two weeks ago, I called for hundreds of billions in principal reduction for homeowners. This would free up Americans to start new businesses, spend money on worthwhile products and services, and invest in their children's futures. We still need to address the $700 billion in negative equity, which in turn is only part of the nearly seven trillion dollars in total lost equity created by the banks' irresponsible, and in some cases, illegal practices. We need a solution at the scale of the problem, so that families can get back on their feet, the economy can get working, and people can reach for their American dreams again instead of watching them drown. That is why I say: $25 billion down, $675 billion to go.

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How We Can REALLY Honor the Legacy of Don Cornelius

When the world heard of the tragic passing of Don Cornelius, we had different reactions. Some were in disbelief, others paid homage to the legend with a “Soul Train line” in Times Square, while many reflected on his immense impact on society. SEE ALSO: Is Black History Month Hard On Black Folks? BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Meet The First Black Female U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot But one thing most people either chose not to accept or simply did not want to accept was the fact that Don Cornelius was dealing with serious internal issues; so much so that he took his own life. No matter what the root cause, poor mental health is a dangerous issue that people unfortunately do not address – especially in our community. And yet it continues to destroy the lives of those suffering from it (and of their loved ones). Because mental health and depression are such significant and critical issues, it’s only right to enlist the expertise of someone qualified to speak on the subject. That’s why, this week, I’m honored to have Terrie Williams, clinical therapist and veteran public relations counselor give us her words of wisdom: We are all mourning the loss this week of Soul Train creator and cultural icon, Don Cornelius.  An American success story, Don left us with a 35-year history lesson in business acumen, cultural exportation, and community uplift.  That’s all good. We should take some time to measure and celebrate Don’s legacy.  That’s easy.  What’s not easy is to discuss how and why he died.  Yes, he hid his demons well. But clearly they were there because this 75-year old icon with a body of work most of us will never achieve chose to end his own life with a gunshot to the head. By all accounts, Don was a very private man. True to form, he didn’t leave a note so we don’t know what moved him to end his life. What we do know is that we did not have to lose Don this way. This silence about depression is now killing us.  It is real. It is deadly. And, it does not discriminate. According to the World Health Organizations, by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of death behind heart disease for everyone. As a veteran public relations counselor and clinical therapist who manages her own depression, I know for sure we all need to learn to identify its symptoms – what it looks like, sounds like and feels like — and get help for those that need it. We must take care of our mental health… and get a “check-up from the neck up.” My heartfelt love and prayers go out to Don’s family, friends. Terrie M. Williams is the author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting and the co-founder of The Stay Strong Foundation.  You can follow her at twitter.com/terriewilliams or visit http://www.storiesthatheal.samhsa.gov or www.thestaystrongfoundation.org. BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Committed Resident Rebuilds New Orleans SEE ALSO: First Lady Hits Road For “Let’s Move” Anniversary

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