Jessica Gomes, Guilin, Guangxi province [Sports Illustrated].
For the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (which is a thing that still somehow exists despite there being porn all over the internet and the editors having so few new ideas that they put the same blonde girl on the cover two years in a row), the magazine decided on a tour of all seven continents, replete with native human props.
As Gwen Sharp noted in 2012 at Sociological Images:
[We] see a very common trend in ads or photo shoots for fashion and luxury services: non-White individuals may be included in the photo shoot, but they are not used to model the use of the product or service itself. As Ashley Mears argues in her ethnography of modeling, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, non-White bodies are generally seen as incompatible with the idealized fantasy of inaccessibility and sophistication that is the guiding aesthetic for fashion mag editorials and advertisements for luxury goods. In these images, we see that non-Whites are included in a way that superficially increases diversity in a magazine’s pages, without disrupting the assumption that the imagined consumer — the subject of these images — is White.
Anne V in Guilin, Guangxi province [Sports Illustrated].
Worse, as Dodai Stewart points out at Jezebel, the depictions of Chinese people (and non-white people in general) in this series is very regressive:
A white person relaxing, a person of color working. Tale as old as time. A non-white person in the service of a white person. This photo cements stereotypes, perpetuates an imbalance in the power dynamic, is reminiscent of centuries of colonialism (and indentured servitude) and serves as a good example of both creating a centrality of whiteness and using “exotic” people as fashion props. China has tons of skyscrapers and modern cities that make New York look rickety, but this image recreates an age-old narrative in which anything non-Western is quaint, backward and impoverished. This is the image the mag is using to represent Asia. (Maybe the editors didn’t want to shoot swimsuits in a city, but they did take shots on dry land and they didn’t have to use a dude with dental issues on a river raft.)
For Sports Illustrated, China is poverty and ‘ethnic’ clothing, not the world’s second largest economy where the majority of people live in cities rather than the countryside.