Modern Times: The Swimsuit Issue

(CBS) As you read this, you are participating in history. This is's first swimsuit edition of a column. 

I have mixed feelings about being the author of this historic column, but the realities of today's competitive market have forced my hand. For years, sex, skin, and swimsuits have been used to attract people to products, publications, and productions. Many of us in the media have resisted joining the flesh peddlers for as long as we could. But when National Geographic came out with a swimsuit issue this month, that was the straw that broke our sunscreen-slathered backs. No, you won't see sexy pictures in this column. But I am wearing a swimsuit as I write. 

As I sit in my 100 percent nylon made-in-Hong Kong "Tommy Bahama" suit, I should tell you that Sports Illustrated started the whole thing with its first swimsuit issue in 1964. Every year since then, the issue has grabbed readers' attention during that winter lull between the Super Bowl and the baseball season. Sports Illustrated's wise editors have continued to display beautiful people in bathing suits in the middle of winter, frolicking in warm, sunny places. That way, the reader whose car may be buried in snow can vicariously be on a beach, looking at some model wearing a ridiculously expensive suit that nobody would ever actually swim in. 

Looking out my office window here in Southern California, watching the wind kiss the palm trees as the mountains hover watchfully in the background, I'm reminded that the success of Sports Illustrated's famous issue got the attention of other magazines. Over the years, many publications have put out their own swimsuit editions. Of course, while all this was happening, the rest of our culture was also being inundated with images of scantily clad folks. Semi-naked models sell everything from cereal to soap, and many movies and television shows would be considered conservative if their actors wore things that covered them up as much as bathing suits. And it's impossible to avoid seeing sexy images on the Internet. 

But many in the mainstream refused to participate in this frenzy. Until now. National Geographic's February swimsuit issue opened the floodgates, and there will be no way to hold back the water that models will dip their pedicured toes in. Of course, the people at National Geographic and other highly regarded publications are quick to point out that their swimsuit issues are "tasteful." Furthermore, National Geographic's editor says that this issue is all about "fun and wonder — as well as total astonishment at what some people will wear in public." Nice rationalization. If this is completely true, I guess we'll soon be seeing a special edition of National Geographic devoted to "100 Years Of Ugly Golf Pants." If it's an anthropological and sociological study, why didn't they choose "The Majesty Of The Loose-Fitting Flannel Shirt?" or "Sweat Pants Worn by Those Who Made a Difference?" No, they chose swimsuits, because they're swimsuits. 

I'm not a prude. I like gratuitous sexiness as much as the next person. But it's just gotten to be silly. (By the way, now I've changed into my blue Nautica suit with the orange trim). It seems to me that there are places that are appropriate for semi-dressed people to be displayed, and places that are not appropriate. 

Who's going to be next? Health and Fitness could easily justify a swimsuit issue. Scientific American could accompany the photos with explanations of gravity-defying design techniques. Are Newsweek and Time going to have issues devoted to, "The Swimmers of Congress?" And Reader's Digest should have no problem showing us even briefer bathing suits. 

Having switched to my 100 percent polyester Polo Sport suit with the little fishes on it, I can honestly say that I'm not sure where all this will end. But I will give you one promise. I will never ask you to read a column that I've written while wearing a thong. Well, if I do, I promise it will be a tasteful one.