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Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue courts controversy

10:02 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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  • Kate Upton covers the 2013 'SI' swimsuit issue. (Photo: Derek Kettela, AP)
  • This Sept. 10, 2012 image released by Sports Illustrated shows a model being photographed on location in Guilin, China, for the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.(Photo: Valery Gherman, AP)

(USA Today)-- The icy, hot Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has prompted some controversy.

No, no one's complaining about Kate Upton's curves (that we know of, anyway). stirred up chatter this week by pointing out that the issue features models posing with "natives." Writer Dodai Stewart goes on to say that "using people of color as background or extras is a popular fashion trope, whether it's Nylon magazine, the Free People catalogue, British Vogue or J.Crew. But although it's prevalent, it's very distasteful." She adds: "People are not props."

The 2013 SI swimsuit issue does indeed feature many people from around the world, in addition to its models. There's an African man with a spear in the background of a photo shot in Namibia. In a photo taken in China, the model sits on a raft as a man uses a pole to propel it. "A white person relaxing, a person of color working," writes Stewart.

In a press call today, cover girl Kate Upton and model Genevieve Morton joinedTravel Channel general manager Andy Singer and SI swimsuit issue editor MJ Day to talk about Sports Illustrated: The Making of Swimsuit '13 - 7 Continents, 17 Wonders, premiering Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. And they addressed the controversy.

But first, they proudly talked about what went into the globe-covering issue. More than 90,000 miles, 230 hours, 10,000 photos, 100 hours of video and 400-800 bathing suits were needed to pull off what Day calls a "very ambitious effort." It took seven months of shooting on all seven continents.

"Having been here for 14 years," said Day, "not to pat myself on the back, but this is the most mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, ambitious achievement you've ever seen in print and in video." She said, "It was a very expensive trip. An investment, but well worth it."

And her reaction to the complaints?

"I look at it like this," she said. "We pick these locations very specifically. That is because we can show people the world. How much of the population can access areas of the world we can access? We feel beauty exists on all levels as well. The beauty is in the people and the places. We want to immerse you as a viewer in these situations." Of the controversy, she dismissed it, saying, "There's nothing to it."

Morton, who shot her photos in Australia for the mag, defended using locals in the photos, citing the benefit of "travel and tourism." She added, "You wouldn't really think to go on holiday to somewhere so remote as where I was in Australia, so to be able to capture that with beautiful girls and put it out there was a great experience for the locals."

Cracked Upton, who posed in Antarctica: "My only locals were penguins."

Singer added that the special will put it all into context. "In the magazine you get one snapshot. In the special you see how the models and crew interact with the locals in a positive way. They really are part of the process."

Oh, and as for Kate and those curves? She addressed them, saying, "I have a personal trainer, and I try and stay healthy and work out as much as possible." And, she added, "My curves are natural. They're not going away not matter how hard I work out."

She also didn't reveal any romantic Valentine's Day plans: "I'm launching my cover ofSports Illustrated in Las Vegas."

And her advice for anyone going to Antarctica is simple: "I would say keep your clothes on. But definitely go there! It's the most beautiful place I've ever been."

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