This article may contain affiliate links; if you click on a shopping link and make a purchase I may receive a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
This week it was revealed that Martha Stewart is the cover model for Sports Illustrated's 2023 swimsuit issue. At 81 years old, she is the oldest cover model for the magazine. And she looks fantastic. I shared the image on my Instagram Stories and while several “hearted” the slide or replied with their positive thoughts, even more replied in a critical manner.
“She's Photoshopped to oblivion.” “She has had so much work done I can't believe she can move her mouth.” “This is a marketing stunt.” “She looks ridiculous.” “She has 82-year-old bones but brand-new plastic skin.” “Why are we celebrating privilege? She can afford the best plastic surgeons and personal trainers.” “This isn't a celebration of age it's a celebration of Photoshop.” “This just shows you're only considered beautiful if you have work done to look young.” “Why can't we just age in peace?”
We All Deserve to Age in Peace
We as women deserve to age in peace, in whatever manner peace looks for each of us individually. To let nature take its course, or to dabble in technology and science to slow or change the effects of time. We can use treatments to look firmer and tauter or to turn ourselves into fantasy characters we only dreamed of as children. We can let our hair go gray, or dye it to the color we had decades ago, or to every color of the rainbow.
We can slather ourselves in SPF and wear large hats, bake ourselves in the sun until we're several shades darker, and cover our skin with ink and piercings. We can be a range of sizes, shapes, and abilities. We can modify our bodies to be the body we felt we were always supposed to have. We can see our bodies as a form of art, changing with time and life experiences. We can be and are more than our bodies.
Martha Stewart is a successful woman of privilege. She was born conventionally beautiful, and modeled before becoming the household name she is today. She has chosen to age in the manner that she wishes, and like the rest of us, deserves to age in peace.
Being a woman is fucking hard, and getting older is fucking hard.
Our rights are being stripped from us, the rights we still have shouldn't be criticized by our sisters. There is no right or wrong way to get older. Let us celebrate the choices we have available. The many ways we can use our bodies to express who we are inside.
Yes, we all deserve to age in peace. Peace means different things for different folks, and when we believe we know better than others what that peace is, we are doing exactly what the patriarchy has been doing since the beginning of time. You do you, I'll do me, and Martha, as she has always done, will do her, the way she wants.
The thought that women posing in bathing suits are being reduced to sex objects gives me pause. A woman showing her body is just a woman showing her body – a woman shouldn’t have to pose in a pantsuit to be taken seriously. When we shift this mindset, the discussion around photo shoots like these will also shift. Hopefully.
I don’t look the same as Martha Stewart in a bathing suit – perhaps if I posed strategically. Thank goodness I’ve reached a stage where I’m able to appreciate another woman’s beauty or outfit or hairstyle without having to compare it to my own – and therefore whether Martha’s look is “attainable” is irrelevant. My body has done wondrous things for me, I have my own beauty, and I’m comfortable with my age. Perhaps too comfortable!
Personally as a woman in my mid-thirties, I LOVE seeing women of all ages and backgrounds in media. This year SI featured a octogenarian, a transwoman, and an openly queer 30 something, and a woman of Lebanese descent, this is ultimately progress and I will take it. Even if these women are air brushed to the gods or entirely made of plastic, it is progress.
Women of all types and backgrounds should be celebrated for being comfortable in their own skin even if they are rich or considered conventionally attractive. Womens are scrutinized for every single thing we do or choice we make when it comes to our lives and bodies and the “backlash” of something as trivial as the SI Swim Issue is proof of that.
I think what’s interesting is that all this is laid at the feet of Martha.
SI made all the aesthetic decisions for their cover, from what Martha wears and how she was styled, to how she was posed, to which shots they would use and how she was edited.
This has nothing to do with whatever choices *Martha* makes about herself. It has to do with our relationship to beauty standards. So I appreciate the critique that yes, maybe this is an unattainable idea of ageing for women (and it IS unattainable–not because of Martha, her genetics, or her wealth, but purely because of photo editing) and doesn’t live up to the inclusivity that the concept of putting an 81-year-old on the cover of a men’s magazine suggests. That’s a legit critique and one worth debating.
But again–all of that has nothing to do with Martha.
Personally, I relish an 81-year-old woman doing whatever the damn hell she wants.
Karen Daniel says
I love this discussion – SO important! And I love that you’re open to hearing different opinions. I respect each woman’s right to do what she likes with her body but I’m so sad that we’re still judged by our appearance so much so that we take drastic measures like surgery to meet certain societal standards. Unfortunately posing for the SI swimsuit cover doesn’t feel like taking a stand for women’s rights or aging gracefully. Imho, it takes away all her accomplishments and reduces her to just another sex object.
Agreed. Martha is damn well within her right to age as she pleases, so good for her if this was a long-held dream attained, but folks acting like this is some advance for feminism are fooling themselves. I also think we have to acknowledge that individual choices, especially among those with high visibility, have collective social consequences, and the ubiquity of high profile older women having work done and showcasing it as “what aging looks like” has led to less realistic societal expectations about the appearances of older women. This is harmful for women. (I also acknowledge that it’s unfair that women and other marginalized groups carry this burden in their personal choices in a way that white men generally do not).
My body. My choices.
Martha’s body. Martha’s choices.
It really is as easy as that.
Lisa Pavelich says
It really is that easy.
Couldn’t agree more – And another hell yes for this article. As I so often say to my friends “Choosing to _________ (dye your hair, pluck your eyebrows, get botox, etc..) does not have to be a feminist issue.
Well written as always, Alison. Although I’ve never been a Martha fan, I admire her intelligence and business savvy, and her ability to challenge and reinvent herself. She is the doyenne of lifestyle influencing. Her brand was all over the place way before the Internet, and she paved the way for all of the Ree Drummonds and Joanna Gaines’ to come.
A few years ago, Jan Seymour, in her 60s at the time, appeared in Playboy.I don’t remember any fuss about that, or at least at the same level as Martha. What has changed? Why all the criticism and hate towards this woman now? How is it possible that the choices and freedoms women have, due to our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers fighting for them, are being slowly eroded away not by men, but by other women?
Paula W. Morton says
Absolutely Allison!! What’s wrong with some women today? No some of us can’t afford to have the opportunities that Martha has. She is strong, beautiful and an inspiration considering all that she has had to live through. Remember, she served time in jail??? She deserved to be there I agree, but she still wants to celebrate her life. She may have had some work done, but from what I can see, she has a tummy like most of us curvy women, and obviously did not have work done there. If that part was photoshopped, it means it may be even larger than what we see. Let’s give each other a break instead of tearing each other apart. Everyone deserves their own opinion, but outright Jealousy and envy serves no purpose.
Alison, I am a big fan of your work but this post is lacking your usual thoughtfulness about image and presentation.
Someone who makes their living presenting their image for public consumption (and that’s what makes Martha her money, her image and the value it adds to the other stuff she sells) is not being treated unfairly when people comment on that image. Her image is valuable precisely because so many people have an opinion about it. We don’t have a duty to have a positive opinion just because she chooses to be a public person.
Personally, I don’t see a distinction between pointing out that Photoshop and plastic surgery are likely factors here and your own honesty about saying that you choose which photos of many to include in a certain lineup, because they portray you as you want to be seen. For me, it’s important to point out these things just to remind ourselves that a beautiful, glamorous image is just that, an image. Martha herself wouldn’t look exactly like that in 3-D, as you often remind us. Pointing out plastic surgery and photoshop is just a way of reminding ourselves of the distinction between image and reality.
KC Sacco says
Agree with your post to a certain extent. It is when people are dishonest about the procedures they have had done. In this interview-she states she has done nothing- except some facials and more pilates to achieve her look. She can be private about what she has had done-but don’t lie about it. As a friend said- it isn’t a natural age progression. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/15/style/martha-stewart-sports-illustrated-cover.html
Linda Mchenry says
Love it! Let’s all “age in peace, as we wish……….and if you don’t have something nice to say, keep your trap shut. Shaming sisters is not attractive……..not that Martha probably gives two hoots.
Paula W. Morton says
Sheila Duggan says
You hit it right on the head sister! Kudos to Martha. I’m sure she knew what flak would occur upon her SI cover. Martha looks like a woman who paves her own path. Remember what they said when she paired up with Snoop?
Just my opinion, but seeing Martha in her sexy, sultry poses does nothing to advance the rights or status of women. Nor does it have anything to do with aging gracefully. And that hair, which obviously is not hers, is just one more unattainable goal for most aging women. This annual magazine shoot has always been about objectifying women not about elevating them. As I said, just my opinion.
Cathy Lawdanski says
I think Martha & every other woman should do what they want with their bodies. My only objection is the notion that “This is 81”! Not for 99.9% of the population. Just like the few who are back in their size 2 jeans 4 weeks after giving birth being held up as the standard. So unrealistic & harmful. Martha – you look beautiful no matter how you got there. But media, please quit promoting this as the standard for beauty.
Clearly, Martha has privilege and can do whatever she wants. What offends me is this idea that she’s worthy of an SI cover because she’s done everything in her power to look young. It’s just another example of an outlier being used to pressure the rest of us into never feeling we’re good enough as we are. “This is 81!” I call BS.
PS. I completely agree women should support other women, and have therefore spent my later years helping women break through barriers to succeed at work. With that said, I’d applaud Martha being recognized for her brains, her business achievements, her entrepreneurial spirit, etc. What is with our society that we value appearance over accomplishment?? That’s what I take issue with — and have the same problem with the SI swimsuit issue regardless of who’s on the cover.
Amen, Sister. Your compassion for women regardless of age, race, economy or orientation is truly inspiring. The world is a better place because of humans like you.
Paula W. Morton says
Has Martha had work done? Yes…and I would too if I could afford it! I noticed though she hasn’t had work done everywhere…and naysayers should take notice of that.
Many people here have already been eloquent about Martha so all I’ll say is this: THANK YOU ALISON for reminding me that I should stop judging others on what they should or shouldn’t have done to their bodies….IT IS THEIR CHOICE.
For me it’s the Kardashian’s…the next time I see something on them I will bite my lip and keep my snarky comments to myself!
This was a very well-written piece that addresses an important topic. We all deserve to age as we see fit. It is a personal choice that should be respected by others. Women seem to be losing their personal choices right and left these days, so please let’s leave how we choose to present ourselves to the world alone.
Women can be so bitter and judgemental towards one another. I wish we could all be kinder and more supportive. The world would be a better place.
I don’t care what individual women do. We should all be able to do what feels best for us. But it’s terribly difficult to age in peace (I’m almost 70) when the beauty industry and media set unreal standards. Remember the MORE magazine cover with the unretouched Jamie Leigh Curtis in her underwear? THAT gave me peace
I think Martha at 81 looks beautiful If she has the opportunities or money or whatever I say you go girl. Women should back women and tear them down. Martha served her time and after that she has came back strong. All I can say is every one gets old and these women that are in their 20’s, 30’s or whatever age will hopefully get to be 81 and then I wonder how will they feel when people are talking about them. I’m 72 and I don’t like being this age but the great thing is that I am still alive and kicking. I am for women doing what ever makes them happy!!
If she wanted to age in peace she would not be doing SI cover. She wants the comments and attention – all of it. As a 58 year old working woman who has no means to have “work” done I am looked at as unworthy by society. This cover of an 81 year old who has the means to nip and tuck every piece of her body makes the life of every single woman who either can’t or chooses not to nip and tuck harder. Like it or not society judges by looks and we continue to celebrate an ideal that is damn hard to replicate. Not a fan.
Susan L says
Bonna Nichols says
Martha takes very good care of herself mentally and physically. I’m sure she is photoshopped for this cover as is every model that will be featured. I don’t care how much “work” she has or hasn’t had done she is one sharp business woman.
I do agree that we should be free to age as we want. And yes, she looks amazing for any age, not just 81. The problem I have with this type of very high profile ‘celebration’ is that it reinforces for much of society that women have to be young looking, attractive and aging almost backwards to be considered worthy, especially when there is no mention of the work that’s gone into achieving it, that is often NOT available to the women who are judged by the same standard, as it becomes a societal norm. If Sports Illustrated and other media of the type also, as a matter of course, showed women of all shapes and sizes (yes, I know they do ‘plus’ but only idealized hourglass plus) then I would feel it is a more a celebration of aging as you want.
Here, here! It’s one thing for her to age in peace. She can do as she pleases and she does look great. But in a post like this, I would hope there would be some discussion of what a cover means, and what expectations it normalizes.
I am not a fan of Stewart. However that has nothing to do with her looks. What drives me nuts is that public figures, women and men are criticized if they have plastic surgery and criticized as looking old if they don’t have surgery. As far as the critics are concerned, public figures can’t win no matter what they look like.
Somehow getting and being “old” is a terrible sin. Old isn’t bad or useless. Old is just old. . It would be so wonderful if the words young and old were just descriptive and carried no positive or negative connotations.
By the way, when does a person become “old”. It depends on who you ask. When I was 14, anyone over 20 was ancient!
In my many years of working in numerous jobs, I did notice an age bias trend. Employers these days have to be careful about this but the bias is still there if somewhat buried. The “ideal” age for an employee is 25 to maybe 40. Under 25 and a person is told s/he doesn’t have enough experience. Over 40 and the person is too old. So, 15 years a person is an acceptable employee?
I agree with your post about Stewart. Leave her alone to do what she does! I wish her the best.
Carolyn Graf says
I love this take! Whatever she has done or not done she looks great and is a very grown ass woman doing what she wants. Cheers!
I love Martha. She has moxie. She looks wonderful for 81 and who cares if she’s had cosmetic assistance. That’s a choice anyone can make at any point in their adult years.
Women need to support, not tear down, each other.
Janet Kenoyer says
Totally agree with you Alison! We all deserve to age in peace, however that works for each one of us. ❤️
Sarah P says
She is a convicted criminal who served prison time — and not with any mitigating circumstances like abuse, mental health issues or drug addiction: https://harbert.auburn.edu/binaries/documents/center-for-ethical-organizational-cultures/cases/martha-stewart.pdf . I’m not a huge fan of treating felons as poster children.
I would argue that she served her time for a nonviolent offense almost 20 years ago and that’s the end of it. People who were incarcerated are not unable to participate in society once they are out of prison. What would be the point in that?
Carolyn Graf says
She served her time and paid her debt to society. It’s time to move on.
Stephani Miller says
Exactly. She was convicted of and served her time for a crime that many others are equally guilty of and have simply not been caught (or have the right connections who look the other way). I don’t have any particular liking for her or her empire, but I respect that she paid for the crime and came back stronger and more interesting than ever.
Sarah P says
I do hope you go about saying the same thing vociferously about the average felon — which in the USA is a young Black or Hispanic man. Those are the people who actually *need* advocates, but strangely the internet seems to have far more defenders for offenders who are rich and white.
Yes, yes, yes, Alison!!! YES!
Shout this everywhere!