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Swimsuit issue is a work of art; Magazine: This year's cover story in the issue of ever-skimpier swimsuits is to wrap beautiful young women in nothing but paint.


The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue currently on newsstands is 204 pages thick, has all the heft of a fireplace log and features supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos on the cover in an $800 swimsuit that seems to consist of two pieces of chain-mail the size of gauze pads.

Inside is the usual collection of leggy young women in impossibly tiny bikinis splayed languorously on tropical beaches as the warm surf laps at their feet and the first rays of the sun peek over the lush green foliage, blah, blah, blah.

Still, with this issue, SI once again pushes the envelope -- if there's still an envelope to be pushed in the world of magazine swimsuit issues targeting, ahem, discriminating college and 30-something guys.

Because when the inevitable thousands of letters from outraged clergymen, feminists and jittery mothers of 14-year-old boys begin pouring into SI, they will invariably contain two words.

The first word will be "sand."

And the second will be "body-painting."

Let's get to the sand part first, which doesn't take long to get to, since it's only four pages into the issue.

There the reader finds a Playboy-like pull-out shot of supermodel Sarah O'Hare lolling on a tropical beach as the warm surf laps at her feet and the first rays you know.

The first thing you notice about Sarah is that she's not wearing a swimsuit. The second thing you notice is that she's not wearing anything.

Well, that's not quite true. What she's wearing are tiny clumps of sand, strategically placed on the areas of the body one would logically place sand on if one were into this sort of thing.

You would think -- well, I would think, anyway -- that it would be a little chilly lying naked in the surf at dawn with wet clumps of sand stuck to your body.

But Sarah is smiling and wearing the standard "Oh, this? Oh, I do this all the time!" expression favored by so many SI swimsuit models.

This year's swimsuit issue was shot in the Virgin Islands, specifically on and around Necker Island, owned and developed by filthy-rich "adventure capitalist extraordinaire" Richard Branson.

Branson may be best known to some as the hot-air balloonist who attempted to circumnavigate the globe last December; the attempt fell short when he was forced to set down in the Pacific Ocean.

But in Necker, says SI, Branson has a resort so idyllic it makes "Aaron Spelling's version of 'Fantasy Island' look like a goat ranch."

What better setting, then, for a wildly popular swimsuit issue which typically attracts 55 million readers (19 million women, 36 million men)?

The sun, the sand, the body-painting oh, yeah, let's get to the body-painting.

In a section titled "Pant by Numbers," SI took five supermodels and painted their bodies to make it look as if they were -- it gets a little complicated here -- wearing some of the actual swimsuits modeled in the issue.

So the models -- not to put too fine a point on this -- are naked except for paint. But it's all fairly tastefully done and the paint jobs do look exactly like swimsuits.

The good news (at least if you were one of the models) is that this wasn't a Sears Weatherbeater latex they were using, but something far more gentle on the skin.

The accompanying story by writer Austin Murphy is very funny and includes a hoot of an interview with the beauteous Romijn-Stamos, who received a 1 a.m. wake-up call for the shoot and had her body painted while she tried to catch 40 winks on a table in an air-conditioned gym.

Murphy: "Rebecca, were you able to get any sleep on that table?"

Romijn-Stamos: "Some. I had all these weird dreams. I was kind of alternating between moments of tranquillity and self-consciousness, when I'd wake up and realize, Hey, I'm lying here butt naked!"

The follow-up question, by the way, was: "Rebecca, do the paint-brushes tickle?" (What, you were expecting something on ethnic strife in Kosovo?)

Only her belly-button, reports Rebecca.

Sigh. It makes you long for those interviews where they asked Joe Montana what he was thinking when he scrambled for 20 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.

Speaking of Joe Montana, he's in the swimsuit issue, too, posing along with his wife, Jennifer, and various other jocks and their significant others, all looking rested and buff and suntanned.

But if you're the type who picks up the swimsuit issue for the articles (snicker, snicker), the best one is by veteran writer Franz Lidz, which details the wild goings-on at a raunchy tourist bar on the island of Tortola.

Lidz reports that although the rum punch flowed freely at Bomba's Surfside Shack, there were, mercifully, no incidents of body-painting.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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