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Up Against The Wall

For some collegians, swimsuit photographs are the last word in dorm decor

O.K., wait. Nobody here is talking about marriage, O.K.? Marriage is a very big step, especially when you are still waiting for your face to clear up. On the other hand, nobody is ruling anything out. Is that understood? Admittedly the outlook is bleak. First, Christie married Billy Joel, then Kelly was supposed to marry Rod Stewart. And what's this about Paulina and that guy from The Cars, who aren't even that good anymore? Those girls could have had anybody they wanted, and they chose those toads. Rock stars—how are you supposed to compete with them? O.K., wait, maybe if I started making my bed....

They are the men of McNutt Quad and Delta Tau Delta and Sproul Hall and a thousand off-campus apartments—men whose damage deposits will never be returned. They are the men (and a few women, too) who await the arrival of each year's swimsuit issue with full hearts and empty walls. Many of them sport heavy orthodontic work, and most of them are majoring in undecided, which is pretty much how they feel about life. They see the flawless smiles and the tawny skin, and for a moment they are transported. It will not last, cannot last, but to keep the moment fresh for as long as possible, they take out the scissors and tape and they put the photos on their walls.

And while most of them know the names and mole patterns of every model who has appeared in a swimsuit issue since their hormones kicked in, they are still achingly young, and they lack the kind of historical perspective they will have later on. UCLA freshman Maurice Poe, for example, insists that he "mainly" remembers Cheryl Tiegs "because she was one of Charlie's Angels. Wasn't she?" Well, to be fair, there were a lot of Angels coming and going toward the end there. Poe may actually be confusing Tiegs—who developed her own fashion line for Sears—with Jaclyn Smith, whose Jaclyn Smith Collection can be seen at K Mart.

While clothes may or may not make the woman, the absence of them—most of them, anyway—can make women, confronted by swimsuit photos cut from a magazine that's supposed to be devoted to sports, well, cranky. "Guys come in my room and just stare," says Jon Lunardini, a Notre Dame freshman with a grouping of 15 SI swimsuit pictures on his dorm wall. "Girls come in and say, 'Oh, that's gross.' "

Gross is one of those relative terms, of course. At the University of Michigan, sophomore David Hyman has meticulously mounted the last eight swimsuit covers and hung them in a large frame over his unmade bed. "It helps, because the winters are pretty rough here," Hyman says. UCLA freshman Dave Gwynn, on the other hand, has plastered the pictures over most of his available wall space, as well as his bed frame and even on the plastic cover of his stereo turntable.

And then there is Jay Lopez, a sophomore at Stanford, who says he first got his hands on a swimsuit issue when he was 12, "but then my mom grabbed it and hid it from me." (Attention school librarians, there is a lesson to be learned here: The forbidden fruit never falls far from the tree. Or something like that.) Lopez says he doesn't even read the SI swimsuit issue anymore. "I just buy it for the pictures," he says.

Lopez has an array of both calendar and magazine photos spread over one wall, and on the same wall he has hung a three-man slingshot (designed to fire water balloons over long distances) and Alf underwear. Over pictures of Stephanie Seymour and Kathy Ireland from the 1989 calendar, Lopez has pasted one of those cartoon word-balloons so that it appears Seymour is saying I LUST 4 JAY. The words are written in orange crayon. "It glows when I shine the black light on it," says Lopez.

Many people may feel the display of so many women in so little clothing is frivolous, but Lopez is not one of them. "You need pictures around here," he says. "They say nine out of 10 girls in California are beautiful and the other one goes to Stanford. We get a lot of crap about these pictures from the women. They're all feminists around here. I tell 'em if they don't like it, they don't have to stay in my room. But I've got nothing against women. This equal rights crap—let 'em do what they want, I say." Evidently the only thing undeclared about Lopez is his major, which, assuming he lives that long, will probably be economics.

Sophomore Stacey Jessiman lives in the dorm room next door to the Lopez bestiary. She has Monet posters on her wall and is studying international relations and art history. "What bothers me is that he feels the need to put up so many" Jessiman says. "I just feel like he's exploiting the female body. There's a lot more to admire about women than just their bodies."

At the other end of the sensitivity spectrum is Dan Fernandez, a second-year graduate student in electrical engineering at Stanford who has an SI swimsuit calendar in his small office in the Durand Building. Fernandez takes a very demure approach. "If I'm going to bring a girl to the office and I don't know her very well, I'll take it down," he says. "I wouldn't want a first date to see my office wall that way. Some women might get offended, or maybe nervous." He does not say why he would want to take a first date to his office, where he studies things like radar scattering, the technique of reflecting electromagnetic waves off an object and inferring from the data the object's size and shape.

Some collectors, like Fernandez, seem to need only a picture or two, while, as indicated above, others go for volume. University of Miami roommates Mark Mautino and Brian Alspector have the photos all over their room—everywhere, in fact, except the ceiling. "They won't let us do that," Mautino says. "They say it's a fire hazard." Mike Shingles, a sophomore pre-med at Michigan, spent two hours last fall putting together a collage that entirely covers one sliding closet door. Shingles used to have a collage of the Minnesota Vikings on his wall, that apparently being part of the usual cycle for male pre-med students: football players, then girls, then CAT scans of the small intestine. Shingles hopes to laminate his collage so that he can take it with him as he travels down life's highway.

The collegians who collect them devote considerable attention to the care and feeding of their swimsuit photos. When construction work begins this spring on UCLA's Sproul Hall, where Gwynn lives, he will painstakingly remove all the pictures from a wall in his room and then transfer them to a large piece of butcher paper. "When you take them down you have to keep the tape on," he says. "If you try to take it off, you're liable to rip some of the important parts."

Proper taping technique is crucial. Scott Cohen, a USC sophomore who has been cutting paper dolls out of the swimsuit issue since the seventh grade, has lost some classics due to faulty tape work. "You've got to be careful, very, very careful," he says. "After a lot of years I guess I've mastered the proper technique, so now I don't ruin my precious pictures." Because there are frequently photos he wants on both sides of a page, Cohen always anticipates cutting up the magazine with a measure of dread. "You're always hoping you aren't cutting over one of the girls' bodies," he says. This is the brutal part of the job.

"It happens every once in a while, but you just have to make a decision," says Steve Carter, a USC freshman. Carter hangs his pictures with thumbtacks so he can turn them over now and then for a change of pace.

Cohen, an SI subscriber, says he looks forward to his copy of the swimsuit issue "all year," although he is sometimes let down at the last minute by the postal service. "Sometimes the issue never comes," he says forlornly. "Or it will mysteriously come a week late, looking like it's been thumbed through."

Assuming the magazine arrives without excessive smudging, convention then calls for a carefully plotted attack on the swimsuit section, with the rest of the issue cast quickly aside. "I usually look through the pictures more than once," says Gwynn, who is also a subscriber. "The first time, I'll glance through really quick, then I go back and pick the ones I like best and cut them out. I have to be really selective because they're on both sides of the pages." Would he consider buying another copy to alleviate that problem? "No," says Gwynn, "I wouldn't."

Some of the collectors display an esthetic sensibility. "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED shows the best of the human body week in and week out, and I guess that's the reason they do the swimsuit issue," says Cohen. And Mark Souva, a sophomore majoring in political science at Michigan, says, "Some of the best parts of these pictures are the backgrounds."

He had considered placing geometric mats over the pictures to highlight the models' faces and body parts. "But then I decided not to because I would have lost the colors, and the pictures as a whole," he says.

Whether it is seen as art or cheesecake, there are a lot of women (and some men) who question the justification for the swimsuit issue; Jennifer Sundquist is not among them. Sundquist, a freshman at UCLA "with a major in beach, minor in party," started putting the swimsuit pictures on her bedroom wall at home a year ago, after her brother gave her several old issues of the magazine, and she now has photos on her dorm-room wall. Her mother, Dorothy, was a model, and Jennifer is hoping for a modeling career too. She has already been in three fashion shows. "My mom encouraged me to get into it because I'm kind of photogenic," she says. "I'm not gay or anything—I just like the way they look," she says. "It's like an inspiration to me." Perhaps fittingly, most of the abuse she has taken over the pictures has come from men. "Guys just don't understand when girls like the way other girls look," she says.

Some collectors follow the swimsuit issue from year to year as if it were a sport unto itself, with each model having her own loyal coterie of fans. Cohen was very enthusiastic about Stephanie Seymour, a promising rookie last year, and speaks of Tiegs as an "aging veteran," the way his father might have talked about Willie Mays. "Carol Alt and Kim Alexis are the two real veterans of the past couple of years," Cohen says. "You sort of wonder if they'll be back with the team this time around."

If there was one thing that particularly troubled Cohen and other aficionados of the swimsuit issue—many of whom volunteered the same complaint without being asked—it was the shocking absence of model Kathy Ireland from the magazine's cover in past years. "She hasn't received nearly enough recognition for her efforts," says Cohen. "She always seems to have the best pictures, but she never gets the cover. She's just not on the cover. I don't understand it. It's really pretty baffling."

The most baffled person in America on this subject may be Souva, who has constructed a virtual shrine to Ireland in Michigan's South Quad dormitory. Souva is a fairly sober 19-year-old with braces and an old-fashioned butch haircut that, along with a wall poster of the Stealth fighter plane, is probably an indication of his devotion to the Air Force ROTC, of which he is a member. "I would like to emphasize that I particularly like Kathy Ireland," Souva says. "They're all beautiful, but I have a preference for brown-haired girls. Blondes usually come across as dumb, and I'm somewhat of an intellectual. I definitely think Kathy should be on the cover. Last year's issue was a disappointment to some extent because she was hardly in it. But people move on, I guess."

Souva knows that someday he, too, will have to move on. "I suppose that eventually I'll marry someone and become less interested in Kathy," he says. "But she'll always be special to me, the way Betty Grable was to people in World War II. I'll always remember Kathy."