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Martha Stewart Landed A Sports Illustrated Cover — And Her Press Rollout Is Really Bad

Martha Stewart in 2021.
Martha Stewart in 2021.

Martha Stewart in 2021.

Martha Stewart has always been genetically blessed. The lifestyle mogul, 81, began her career as a model and is still posting viral “thirst traps” to her Instagram account well into her golden years.

So, when Sports Illustrated announced Monday that Stewart will be gracing the latest cover of the magazine’s famed Swimsuit Issue — officially making her the “the oldest SI Swimsuit cover model in the publication’s history” — it made sense. Stewart is still hot.

The feat should feel triumphant. But while debuting her cover exclusively with the “Today” show on Monday, Stewart was laser-focused on spreading messages that some who have experienced eating disorders, or feel insecure about their own aging bodies, may find frustrating.

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Stewart explained to “Today” co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb that the magazine approached her about doing the cover in November 2022, just a few weeks before the photo shoot was scheduled to take place, at the end of January.

“That was kind of a request that I’ve never had before,” Stewart recalled. “To be on the cover at my age was a challenge. And I think I met the challenge.”

She then went into detail about how she met this “challenge” using rhetoric straight out of diet culture — or a system of beliefs that equates thinness with health and moral virtue, classifies certain ways of eating as good or bad, and encourages weight loss at all costs.

“I didn’t starve myself,” Stewart said as she explained how she prepared for the shoot. “But I didn’t eat any bread or pasta for a couple of months. I went to Pilates every other day and that was great; I’m still going to Pilates every other day ’cause it’s so great. And I just, I live a clean life anyway — good diet and good exercise and healthy skin care and all of that stuff.”

Stewart added that she sees her appearance as “a testament to good living.”

After discussing the hospital she founded, the Martha Stewart Centers for Living at Mt. Sinai in New York City, where “it’s all about growing old gracefully,” she went on to admit that her genes did play a role in her looks. But she also used her mother’s example to promote an ideal of thinness.

“My mom was my role model,” said Stewart, referring to a throwback photo Stewart posted of her mother for Mother’s Day on Sunday. “After four kids, she was still wearing a two-piece bathing suit. And she still had two more after that, and she was still wearing a two-piece bathing suit, so that’s pretty fabulous. My genes are good.”

(For the record, anyone, regardless of size, should feel free to wear a two-piece bathing suit if they want.)

The problem with upholding diet culture, argues Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and the author of “Anti-Diet,” is that it oppresses people who don’t meet a supposed “health” ideal. This, in turn, “disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health,” Harrison explains on her website.

Also problematic are Stewart’s remarks equating thinness with moral superiority by describing her lifestyle as “good living” and a “clean life” ― terms that appear to be about wellness rather than diet.

“Diets have morphed and shape-shifted into this wellness thing that’s now so much harder to detect,” Harrison told HuffPostin 2020. “The ‘wellness diet’ is about demonizing some foods while elevating others; eating the supposedly ‘right’ things and removing the supposedly ‘wrong’ things. It promises health and moral superiority, but it almost always promises thinness, as well.”

And, yes, it should be said that Stewart is posing for an issue of a magazine that is the embodiment of Western beauty ideals. While it’s certainly nice to see an older woman like Stewart included, it might have been more revolutionary if someone who broke more beauty standards — and didn’t subscribe to and amplify diet culture — made the cover.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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