For four decades, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has strategically titillated — and offended — Americans. Even as the publishing industry struggles financially, the issue's annual release is still a Big Event, yielding significant revenue and reliably launching new models' careers. (Watch an AP report about this year's SI cover model, Brooklyn Decker.) Here, a quick timeline of notable moments in Swimsuit Issue history:
The phenomenon debuts, 1964
With a dearth of sporting news to report, then-editor Andre Laguerre decides to pad the January issue with a little cheesecake. The cover features model Babette March knee-deep in surf wearing a relatively boyish and innocent white bikini beside the words "A Skin Diver's Guide to the Caribbean." The phrase "Swimsuit Issue" is yet to come.
Cheryl Tiegs propels the Issue to new notoriety, 1978
The fresh-faced supermodel dons a see-through, fishnet one-piece more properly described as a "concept" than as a piece of clothing — and triggers a public uproar. More than 340 readers cancel their subscriptions.
The Swimsuit Issue turns 25, 1989
Supermodel Kathy Ireland — who appeared in the issue for 13 consecutive years starting in 1984 — graces the 25th anniversary cover, setting a sales record that's yet to be broken.
Men invade the Issue, 1994
Five members of the American men's water polo team pose alongside models Rachel Hunter, Elle Macpherson and (veteran) Kathy Ireland inside the issue, the first time females are forced to share the stage. "The men are always in the water," notes the New York Times, "and do not pose provocatively...."
The Issue becomes a standalone product, 1997
With 1997's effort, fronted by a young Tyra Banks, the swimsuit package expands from a multi-page section within a regular issue to achieve special-issue status. No longer do the supermodels appear alongside athletes
The body-paint gimmick debuts, 1999
The creative team paints a "swimsuit" on the naked body of Heidi Klum, introducing one of S.I.'s most dependable ways to guarantee outrage. "Sports Illustrated editors have always felt obliged to pretend that the swimsuit issue is a source of massive national controversy," observed Bryan Curtis in Slate in 2005. "This is best observed in their insistence, two weeks after the annual issue, on printing correspondence from outraged parents and besmirched librarians."
Reader protests mount, 2005
After years of complaints from subscribers protesting the Issue's objectification of women, Sports Illustrated offers subscribers an "opt-out" option, citing "good manners."
Beyonce redefines the parameters, 2007
The pop-star graces the cover of "Swimsuit 2007: The Music Issue," becoming the first "nonmodel and nonathlete" to score the coveted spot.
Walmart shoppers complain, 2008
Walmart faces customer protests for openly displaying the cover photo of model Marisa Miller posing topless.
The swastika cafuffle, 2010
S.I. gets bad buzz for a photo (included in the web version of the swimsuit package) of blond beauty Genevieve Morton posing next to an American WWII-era fighter plane emblazoned with two swastikas. Denying that the shot is, in any way, pro-Nazi, S.I editors point out that each swastika represents a German fighter plane shot down by U.S. pilot, Lt. R. H. Parker.