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Yumi Nu and the Sports Illustrated Cover
On the media's treatment of the social acceptance of unhealthy habits
Last week’s social media handwaving freakoutery focused on Yumi Nu’s pinup photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Here’s the cover:
Yumi Nu is a very successful “plus size model,” which means she models clothes for obese people. That seems like a thoroughly reasonable choice of profession to me, given the national and global obesity epidemic. I bet she makes a lot of money at it, and I can’t fault her game. Some men like big girls, and making unhealthy body choices to attract men is a time honored tradition among women. There’s no shortage of pinup models who go on anorexic cocaine binges and buy bolt-on boobs or ass implants to attract men, for instance. What’s curious to me is how the handwaving freakoutery over these choices breaks on a culture war level, and what financial decisions publications like Sports Illustrated make to navigate this culture war in a profitable way.
The Wokes love the SI cover because they’ve adopted the incredibly unscientific “healthy at any size” slogan as truth, and the core beliefs of Wokeism rearrange reality itself into a mental construct in which nobody is ever offended. The anti-Wokes hate the cover because it promulgates this antiscientific claptrap, but the anti-Wokes generally don’t raise a stink if a mag has a cover with an anorexic coke sniffer with bolt-on boobs. That’s just her choice to binge amphetamines and buy the boobs. Well, isn’t it also Yumi Nu’s choice to eat those Hot Pockets? Nu might very well be making the better business choice given how the US population is slowly turning into extras from Wall-E. She’s in the growth market.
Could SI put a woman on the cover who’s actually healthy, instead of the anorexic boob job girl or the obese girl? Sure, but that wouldn’t drive clicks.
The best way to visualize how healthy or unhealthy a life choice is, I think, is to compare it to cigarette smoking. Talking heads in the United States went so full-bore against cigarettes that smoking one can get you kicked out of bars full of people actively smoking weed. I know this, because it happened to me personally in Oakland in the late 1990s. Cigarettes are literally the devil, so mathematically comparing life choices to the Literal Devil seems like a good way to develop an intuitive frame. Here’s a comparison between weight and cigarettes.
This figure from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 shows that having a body mass index (BMI) of somewhere around 43 reduces your life span the same amount as being a routine pack or more a day smoker. The overweight Woke chime in here and say “yes but you can be totally healthy your entire life while overweight.” While this is true, the same is true for smoking. That just means you made it to the far right corner of the graph. Anecdotes are not data, and when you compare the data for smoking and the data for severe obesity, the data yield comparable results.
“But you can quit smoking!” Yes, and you can quit eating Hot Pockets. “But some people can’t help themselves!” Yes, and cigarettes are also addictive. “But we can get people to never start cigarettes so they avoid nicotine addiction!” Yes, and you can do the same thing with food by not feeding your children sugar and processed factory junk. The whole argument maps over perfectly.
Yumi Nu’s BMI is difficult to calculate because there are conflicting sources of information on her height and weight. Some websites have her listed at five feet six inches tall, while others say she’s five feet eleven inches tall. Most current talking heads peg her at 242 ponds. Depending on which height measurement is correct, her BMI is either 33.7, landing her slightly to the left of the solid red line in the graph, or 39.1, landing her very close to the dashed red line. Translated loosely, her body choices are identical from a health perspective of being somewhere between a casual smoker and a daily habit smoker. That’s the price of her Deal with the Devil. Would I make that choice? I don’t know, but I bet she makes a pile more money than I do.
The Business of Media
From a public health perspective, the choice of Sports Illustrated to put Yumi Nu on the cover is approximately the same as choosing to put a model smoking a cigarette on the cover. Has SI ever had a swimsuit model on the cover smoking a cigarette? Not as far as I can tell. But they have had actual sports people on the cover doing it. Here’s one from 1972, before the culture war against smoking:
SI couldn’t publish this cover today. They would get cancelled by a social media mob of anti-smoking people for promoting smoking. But they could publish it in 1972 because the US smoking rate then was about what the current obesity rate is now:
Project the WHO data in the United States through 2022 and you land at around 40%, which is the exact smoking rate in 1972. Obesity is socially accepted in 2022 just like smoking was in 1972. And contrary to popular belief, Sports Illustrated’s primary objective is not to steer cultural norms towards healthy outcomes. Their primary objective is to make money.
If they publish the anorexic cokehead with the bolt on boobs, the Woke will yell about it. If they publish Yumi Nu, the anti-Woke will yell about it. They’re boned either way. The smart smoky backroom editor picks a model that will drive the most controversy, and thereby generate the most clicks, which means their choice to put Yumi Nu on the cover is magnificent for shareholder value.
And then we all fall into their trap and yell at each other about it on Facebook.