Christie Brinkley's barely there reason for SI cover

Christie Brinkley daughters Sports Illustrated_00003424
Christie Brinkley daughters Sports Illustrated_00003424

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Christie Brinkley and her daughters grace SI 00:48

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: No question Christie Brinkley photos send a powerful message
  • That message not really the positive, affirming one of which Brinkley is thinking

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)On Monday night, supermodel Christie Brinkley took to Instagram to announce her return to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, the cover of which she graced for three consecutive years starting in 1979, when she was in her 20s.

This time, Brinkley, now 63, appears with Alexa Ray Joel, her 31-year-old daughter with ex-husband Billy Joel, and Sailor Brinkley Cook, her 18-year-old daughter with ex-husband Peter Cook. "Thank you Sports Illustrated," she wrote, "for sending the powerful message that good things come in packages of every size and we do not come with an expiration date!"
No question, the photo spread sends a powerful message -- but it's not really the positive, affirming one of which Brinkley is thinking. In fact, at this particular moment in history, as millions of women march for rights that are being threatened, or which don't exist -- including reproductive rights and the right to equal pay -- her SI babes-in-swimsuits project rings extremely tone deaf.
    You could argue -- as people try to do every year -- that the iconic issue is empowering, a celebration of women, edited by a woman. Many of the models are paid very generously for their work (modeling, in fact, is one of the few industries in which women out-earn men). And over the years, the magazine has done a decent job featuring models of a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, including athletes like American mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey and Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke. Last year's big news was the inclusion of the issue's first "plus-size" cover girl, Ashley Graham.
    And, yes, this year, as Brinkley notes, the magazine includes as a swimsuit model a sexagenarian, a concept that apparently shocked even her. "My first thought was, 'At my age? No way!'" Brinkley tells People magazine. "When I turned 30, I was like, 'This is the last time I'm posing in a bathing suit!' When this issue comes out, I'll be 63. I thought, 'Those days are over.'"
    And yet, here she is. Proof that beauty has no time stamp? Or just another impossible ideal that women are asked to strive for -- youthful beauty, almost literally until the day we die? I think we know the real answer to this.
    Because we do, it's hard not to cringe when Brinkley touts the swimsuit appearance as affirmation not only for herself, but for her daughters. "How many years ago I was that insecure girl hoping that I would be good enough for the magazine," she told ET. "So to see my daughters now having the same thoughts I had, and to be able to see them actually be there on the job, was definitely a big moment."
    As if being deemed "good enough" to appear in a bathing suit is, in fact, the standard girls should live up to, the things that rescues them from their insecurity. As if there aren't tons of other things we could and should be wishing for our daughters right now -- not needing affirmation from anyone else, for one thing.
    Brinkley is indeed beautiful. So are her daughters. But their inclusion in this issue is proof of nothing other than that the world continues to need to see female role models of various talents, types, hair colors, and waist sizes in various areas of achievement. And that the end has come for raising girls to view getting a magazine spread as the validation they need to carry on.
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    To wit: On the same day Brinkley instagrammed about her SI spread, organizers of last month's Women's March heralded an upcoming strike. "A day without women ... at a time when our foundational principles of freedom and equality are under threat."
    One more thing: Featuring a 63-year-old in a swimsuit magazine when that 63-year-old looks like Brinkley isn't "diversity" or some sort of celebration of alt-womanhood -- a sign that growing old is no longer a threat.
    Aging is still very much a threat to most women, and not just for the wrinkles and bags and bikini modeling end-of-days. It's just one of the many things we have to worry about right now.