Jordan Peterson Misunderstands the Business of Beauty

Sports Illustrated (SI) is a commercial enterprise. Its sole purpose is to generate a profit. So when plus-sized model Yumi Nu was chosen to grace the cover of this year’s swimsuit issue, it wasn’t primarily because of woke politics or outside pressure from progressive activists; it was because the shot-callers at SI were confident that Nu could make them a lot of money.

That revelation came as something of a shock to Jordan Peterson. When Nu’s cover shot was posted to Twitter, Peterson insisted that she’s “not beautiful,” and that “no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.

Peterson’s reaction isn’t terribly surprising. In many male conservative circles — and this is especially true on social media — there is a widespread belief that progressives are attempting to redefine traditional standards of beauty in the name of inclusivity. But what Peterson and his fans fail to understand is that SI isn’t trying to redefine beauty; it’s simply acknowledging that there is no single, universal standard of beauty.

If that weren’t the case — if the men of this world were attracted exclusively to just one body type — Yumi Nu would have never been chosen to appear on the swimsuit cover. The magazine would never risk alienating its biggest customer base for the sake of a progressive cause. That would be a poor business decision.

Featuring more plus-sized women like Nu in its swimsuit issues could, on the other hand, prove to be a rather wise business decision.

Businesses thrive when they find ways to attract new customers. That’s why SI put Yumi Nu on its cover. But she’s not the only model who was chosen to appear on the cover. Four other women were chosen alongside her, including 74-year-old Maye Musk, professional singer Ciara, and reality television star Kim Kardashian.

Last year, transgender model Leyna Bloom became the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover.

It’s obvious what SI is trying to achieve. By selecting a more diverse cast of models in each successive issue, the magazine is bound to catch the attention of potential consumers who are attracted to these women, women whom the industry mostly ignored until it realized that there’s an audience for these types of models.

Peterson sees it differently. He thinks that SI is siding with progressives in America’s culture wars. And to be fair, he’s not entirely wrong. SI knew perfectly well that putting Nu on its cover would invite an enthusiastic round of applause from progressives. But that’s not the principal reason the magazine made this move. Its editors are very much aware that this one decision isn’t going to suddenly transform hordes of progressive men and women into loyal SI subscribers.

SI made this decision because, as surprising as it may be to Jordan Peterson and some other conservative men, the fact is that there are some people out there who are genuinely attracted to plus-sized women like Yumi Nu — and SI wants their money. The praise that the magazine is receiving from progressives is just the icing on the cake, a secondary and short-lived benefit that won’t have any measurable impact on its long-term profitability.

At the end of the day, the business of beauty is a numbers game, and the number that counts the most is not Yumi Nu’s weight; it’s the number of magazines that she’s able to sell.

If Peterson is correct, the issue won’t sell well, and his point will have been made. But if the issue sells as well as SI’s editors believe it will, it will confirm what many of Peterson’s critics have argued, which is that traditional conceptions of feminine beauty have always been too narrow, and that the range of body types to which people are attracted is much more diverse than Peterson himself seems to recognize.

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