Maurine Kornfeld deserves SI cover, not Martha Stewart

81-year-old Martha Stewart graces the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition this year, which is making all kinds of news. Most people seem to think it’s great. I generally don’t pay attention to this sort of thing, but I have a response this time: Maurine Kornfeld deserves the cover.

Who is Maurine Kornfeld, you might ask? I’ll get to her momentarily. First, let me start with a comment re. SPORTS Illustrated. (Caps intended.)

Should anyone in a swimsuit garner the cover of a magazine that supposedly focuses on sports and athletes, fitness and strength, then my vote would be that the cover model be a true athlete who presents a wonderful example of being fit and active and accomplished and passionate about their sport; and whose appearance isn’t over-airbrushed to look unrealistic.

Does the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition have anything to do with swimming . . . or athletes who compete in that sport? Of course not. The focus is only on women (I’d love to see some men if they want to make it equal), and most of them are models, posing in ridiculous and unnatural ways. It’s just another example of the commodification of women, presenting them in soft-porn style for the gaze of male viewers.

The SI swimsuit edition attracts attention and dollars and proves to be very successful, so of course, they continue to do it. And with Martha Stewart on the cover, the buzz is serving them well. The magazine featured a plus-size model on the cover once, from what I’ve read, and now, a woman over 80. This is supposed to illustrate inclusivity. (Cue to me rolling my eyes.)

Now, I bet Martha Stewart is fit and does look truly fabulous; I have no reason to doubt that and I champion her for it. But c’mon, not one tiny wrinkle anywhere? Please. Personally, I don’t see those photographs as empowering. It’s just the same ol’, same ol’, prizing women on how they look. For women, it prompts a “compare and despair” phenomenon which the media is so good at stoking. These images stoke insecurity more than they empower.

If the cover model truly reflected the name of the magazine, and a woman over 80 was to replace Martha Stewart, I’d go with a true role model: 101-year-old Maurine Kornfeld.

Maurine Kornfeld at 98 ((Photo from the International Swimming Hall of Fame)

Maurine Kornfeld began Masters swimming in her 50s, and quite by accident. She went to swim some laps at the Rose Bowl pool in Pasadena, where she lives, but the lifeguard told her she couldn’t get in the pool because the Masters team was in a practice session. Determined to swim, she acted like she was on the team and got in the pool anyway. From there, her Masters career began. She’s since won so many Masters races and broken so many world records, that the medals hanging on her doorknob actually broke the hinges on the door!

In international races alone, Kornfeld has won 14 gold medals and four silver medals. In 2018, at the age of 98, Kornfeld was inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. And she’s still at it. Earlier this month, Kornfeld broke yet another Masters World Record at the age of 101, winning the 50 freestyle for the 100-104 age group at the 2023 United States Masters Swimming (USMS) Spring Championships in Irvine, California. Amazing!

Maurine Kornfeld has wrinkles because hey, she’s 101! Who cares? She’s fit and happy and active and pursuing her passion. To my eyes, she’s a truly fabulous model not just for a woman over 80, but for a woman at any age.

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6 months ago

Go Johanna! I’m right there with you.