The Sport Illustrated Swim Issue is to Female Empowerment What the Measles Outbreak is to Vaccine Choice

Sports Illustrated swim issue cover model Hannah Davis has been busy playing defense regarding her racy cover shot. During several recent interviews she has said people criticizing the magazine’s cover are “anti-feminist” and “overanalytic”. She says the image is “empowering” and that the backlash is “silly”.

Her full, somewhat hard-to-follow comment is: “There’s controversy every year, so I think it’s kind of just silly that they’re making it out to be the big thing; I mean it’s the swimsuit issue. There are far more scandalous pictures in the magazine if you open it up. It’s a girl in a bikini, and I think it’s empowering; I’ve been hearing it’s degrading. I think the people who are saying that aren’t feminists, because I think when you’re a woman and you look at that picture and if you overanalyze it as anything more than just a full picture, it’s just silly to me.”

Read our post “Add To Your Grocery List Some Mainstream Porn” on why this cover matters to your family.

This empowerment thing – we need to discus this.

At the end of the day this really works out well only for Hannah Davis. For the rest of us, it is one more drip in the toxic bucket girls and women everywhere are forced to slop around.

What bothers me most about this statement from Hannah Davis is a very clear lack of media training before the big publicity blitz for this money-making issue. Sports Illustrated is leaving Davis to do her own PR work for a knowingly controversial cover, hence the “year of the torso” comment we got from the TODAY Show interview and the nonsensical quote we see above. Maybe Davis was given on-point media sound bites prior to SI trotting her all over the media and she chose not to use them, but it certainly feels like SI hung her out to dry like a wet string bikini. Is it empowering for SI to leave this young woman to weather the storm of public opinion over the exploitative revealing of her mons pubis on the cover of a mainstream magazine while they rake in millions and millions in sales?

Don’t get me wrong, I like that we are hearing Davis’ voice and thoughts as it serves to humanize the objectified body we see on the cover. But Davis shouldn’t have to defend her choice to work in her professional industry, nor should she have to defend her desire for her hot, fresh career to sit on the modeling equivalent of a rocket launch pad while she is still hot and fresh. Davis is not a stupid woman and she knows exactly what this will do for her name and net worth. Davis gave up being a star tennis player on the junior circuit for a career in modeling, and she has said that being as SI swim cover girl was a lifelong dream of hers. Davis would have grown up watching a dozen other SI swim issue cover models become household names, successful businesswomen, television stars, and international icons of beauty and sexiness – who wouldn’t want to follow the same track?

In all honestly, I feel for Hannah Davis and some of the flack she is getting. This is an enormous moment and she most likely wants people to be happy and excited for her. While it is true she is a participant in a problematic industry, she didn’t create the cultural framework in which a woman who looks the part can buy in to the patriarchal bargain and become a sex object in order to make a power grab for her future. Davis is being individually attacked online and mocked publicly for the cover image, but at the end of the day she’s a 24-year-old woman trying to make a name for herself in a society that demands she do exactly what she is doing.

Davis didn’t create the rules to the game, she’s just playing by them. Sadly she feels empowered by them and downplays the peddling of her sexuality as a commodity because she knows if she doesn’t do it, the next girl in line will. The young women who are willing to go the furthest for the male gaze achieve the most fame, and this celebrity and wealth then becomes confused with modern female empowerment.

The swim issue has nothing to do with female empowerment and everything to do with the male gaze and profit margins, to the tune of 7% of SI’s total annual earnings. The swim issue sells ten times the number of copies as a regular SI issue. This glossy semi-nude empire earns the magazine $1 billion. The secondary merchandise tier of calendars, videos, digital media like screen saves and television documentaries bring in an additional $10 millon. In fact, these bikini-clad bodies also boost tourism at shoot locations by as much as 30% as well as become a golden-tanned ticket for the bikini and jewelry designers featured on the models. And each year, the swim issue has to get racier and racier in order to stay relevant, controversial, and titillating all at once.

To say there is A LOT of money riding on the bared bodies of these beauties is an understatement. The problem is, a very small percent of that windfall goes into the bank accounts belonging to the women whose bodies brought those profits in for businesses owned by men. In that regard, SI is similar to a really crappy pimp.

And this is where I have to depart in opinion with Ms. Davis. If this were true female empowerment, SHE would be the one earning $1 billion+ from her body. In actuality, the models get paid very little for this gig and are expected to monetarily capitalize on the publicity and job offers that roll in. This system was established by female SI swim editor Jule Campbell, who fought to have the models names published on the cover alongside their photo just like the sports stars. When I first read that sentence while doing research for this piece I thought “Hell yeah!” The following sentence said this was done in order to keep the model’s day rates low. Oh hell no. The models are encouraged/expected to find ways on their own to cash in on the favor SI just did them. Classy. For example, beauty icon Cheryl Tiegs earned$125.00 for her 1983 SI swim cover. Today, that translates to $297.11.

As a business woman, I really hope Davis cashed a check for more than $300. As a feminist, I really wish these women would stop acting with a “lowest common denominator complex”, band together, and demand their bodies and commercialized sexuality is worth a whole lot more than a few hundred bucks. Case in point, I interviewed a stripper once who told me she had trouble earning extra money on the side during her shifts because she can no longer get $50 for oral sex in the private rooms when the girl next to her is prostituting the whole rodeo for $20. This just isn’t good economics. (Ladies, for myriad reasons, we are often our own worst enemy.)

So while Hannah Davis will most likely follow in the profitable footsteps of the beach babes who came before her and went on to lucrative corporate endorsements, modeling jobs, and business start-ups, at the end of the day this only works out well for Hannah Davis. For those of us who aren’t Hannah Davis, it is one more drip in the toxic bucket girls and women everywhere are forced to slop around.

The constant and continued sexualized objectification of females in the media carries forward a massive list of societal ills for the rest of us who have to live in a culture that is skewed and altered by the acceptance of men’s entitlement over women’s bodies.  And if a woman says anything else to the contrary, well then shut that “bitch” up. From the spectrum of passive-aggressive “oh not you too, feminatzi” comments to gender based violence and murder, when a woman is not allowed by her society to advocate the idea that a woman’s body belongs to her and holds value as a full human being we’ve got big trouble.

We are the ones who have to deal with: sexualized and stereotyped girlhoods, split-second decisions on how to handle street harassment, achieve higher education during an epidemic of campus rape, earn a living while being valued less than our male colleagues, suffer the lion’s share of domestic violence, victimization from revenge porn, fend of the crush of beauty norms from the media, fend off rape and death threats on social media for saying words, protest legislation against our bodies, attempt to keep in tack a sense of healthy sexuality with our partners who are inundated with images of what a woman “should” look like, and somehow maintain a level of self worth through all this lifelong bullshit.

Friend, that’s quite the load for our sisters and daughters to bear.

Hannah Davis should not be our Typhoid Mary, but she and her cover-worthy private parts can serve as the canary in a coal mine just like the recent measles outbreak did for vaccine safety and herd immunity. Hannah Davis no more created these problems for women than vaccine free families created measles. Hannah Davis most likely doesn’t want to see girls and women hurt, just has vaccine free families don’t want other children to get sick. But just like not vaccinating children fails to remain a personal choice because it impacts the health and safety to all those around them, so too does the participation by women in their own sexual objectification and sexual commodification for massive profit to men build risk and inevitable harm to girls and women everywhere.

We seem to have caught on quickly to the issues and risks of not vaccinating our population. It appears we now understand the concept that herd immunity provides a protective ring around those most vulnerable. Maybe when we learn to see the hustling of female sexuality and bodies as a public health and safety issue, we’ll learn to  inoculate ourselves against that as well.

Immunization

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Add To Your Grocery List Some Mainstream Porn

 

A glimpse at the Hannah Davis Sport Illustrated Swim Issue, hitting new stands this month.

A glimpse at the Hannah Davis Sport Illustrated Swim Issue, hitting new stands this month.

Another title I was considering for this post was “Why Hannah Davis’ Mons Pubis Is Now Your Family’s Business”.

As I don’t personally know Hannah Davis and I assume neither do most of you, it just felt a little icky to be talking about her private lady parts. Despite the fact that Ms. Davis made the world her gynecologist this past week when the cover of the 2015 Sport Illustrated Swim Issue was unveiled (and by that we mean seriously unveiled), there is that fine line of critiquing our hyper-sexualized society while not slut-shaming the female pawns who participate in it.

And can you blame a girl? Hannah Davis is a young but successful model who has aspirations of building a lifelong career and business empire for herself, following in the footsteps of other SI swim cover alums like Kathy Ireland, Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks. She knows the SI cover was the launch pad for all of these women and Hannah Davis is no dummy. As far as business decisions go, for her it was a smart move and she’s going to cash in on that patriarchal bargain.

Where does the person end once the commodification of her body begins?

Let's be honest, here is what SI is selling by the millions on news stands.

Let’s be honest, here is what SI is selling by the millions on news stands.

Really, “Hannah Davis” could be any girl. We had the same discussion about Kate Upton and her 2012 cover. I’m sure there was a line of models waiting for Hannah’s cover spot, all just as eager to strike the same pose if it reaped the same rewards. Davis isn’t on the cover because of some amazing personal accomplishment or successful endeavor. No broken sports records or championship title. Taking off her bikini bottom on the cover is her accomplishment. Davis is on the cover of the swim issue for nothing other than the sex appeal of her body – her lithe but Photoshopped-to-high-heaven waxy, plastic looking body. Thanks to Photoshop, those are a dime a dozen these days.

For the past week I’ve only seen Davis referenced as “Derek Jeter’s girlfriend”, because a woman’s place in society naturally orbits around her relationship to a man. This is sadly ironic for a woman who is not only gorgeous, she’s actually a very talented athlete. You’d just never know it because this week, all Hannah Davis is known for is showing her bare girlie bits on a magazine sold for $20.00 at your local grocery store or 7-11.

Let the record reflect, the woman on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swim issue was a championship tennis player and member of the Virgin Islands National Volleyball team before she embarked on a skyrocketing modeling career.

Now that that’s all out of the way, whether or not you plan to be one of the estimated 2 million people who will own a copy of this issue let’s embark on a discussion about why the SI cover girl’s pubic mound matters to us. Actually, her waxed-bare pubic mound, because that’s also part of the story.

This is mainstream.

What once would have been an inside-the-magazine shot is now the acceptable cover, with no age barrier to see it. And there's a lot to see.....

What once would have been an inside-the-magazine shot is now the acceptable cover, with no age barrier to see it. And there’s a lot to see…..

Mainstream means not niche erotica or reserved for adults in the back of the store by the other lad mags with a brown paper wrapper.

This image is mainstream. For the general public, with no barrier of entry for minors.

Rest assured – this will be eye level with your first grader at the store with the tag line “Going down south”, all words your seven year old can read while he stares at this woman’s genitals playing peek-a-boo and asks you why she looks like a little girl “down there” if she is a grown up because you are a grown up but you have a furry wiener.

This will be right up front at your local grocery store or book store. It will be on the new stand at the corner store or gas station. Believe me, this will be EVERYWHERE, as AdWeek reports: “Our strategy this year was to go bigger across every single channel,” said the magazine’s vp, publisher Brendan Ripp. “Sports Illustrated has never tried to launch something this big in the experiential space.”

An image that would have been considered pornographic not too long ago is now 3:30pm I’m just here to buy milk and a loaf of freaking bread mainstream. I can choose whether or not I or my young children look at porn. I don’t get to choose whether or not they will see Hannah Davis’ mons Venus. Her junk is going to be right there in our faces.

The waxed-bare pubic mounds of women are no longer reserved to adult-only porn, it is just a normal part of our society who ignores the implications of pornography norms infiltrating our general sexuality. Specifically, the infantilization of women and what taboos that blurs when it comes to our kids and sex.

And think about this for a moment — If the real Hannah Davis walked into the grocery store and exposed herself like that to my kids, I’d rightfully say “What the actual HELL?”, call the cops, and have her charged with indecent exposure to a minor. But when Hannah Davis’ indecent exposure is done in a public space by a corporation to make money…….

We also conveniently ignore the immense pressures (emotional and financial) on women to not look like grown women but rather a prepubescent large-busted sex goddesses who show no signs of eating, aging, injury, or childbirth. If you do, well the good doctor can just snip that for you if the $78,342 you’ve spent on beauty-in-a-jar didn’t do the trick. Some salons even offer “virgin waxes” for tween girls, in case you want to pass on your insecurities to your twelve year old.

And if this is mainstream, consider next what must be going on in pornography to stay titillating and edgy? Because my mom is going to see this at the Piggy Wiggly and if she is going to shrug and look the other way, just what do we have to do to shock and excite these days? And how will women’s bodies be used as object to achieve that?

Davis herself said on the ‘TODAY’ show last week she didn’t see what the big deal was. Davis was born in 1990, so she’s never known a culture in which sex wasn’t marketed directly to little girls and women were not sexualized for mass corporate profit. Maybe her parents taught her differently, but these were the cultural waters she was swimming in. It is hard not to get wet. If her parents didn’t discuss this with her growing up, how could we expect her to know better? But we know better, and we should be doing better. We should demand better.

This is mainstream and that matters.

It matters if kids see highly sexualized images like the SI swim cover because it sexualizes children and their childhood. This SI swim cover didn’t happen in a vacuum. SI isn’t the downfall of society. It is a symptom of a MUCH larger problem, and to pretend otherwise is just being obtuse.

Sexualization is everywhere, and it interferes with a child’s healthy development and introduces concepts to them they are not yet ready for. It teaches gender roles where a beautiful young woman is the f*ckable object for whomever happens upon her, and the agency is given to the male/male gaze. It teaches boys to expect entitlement over a woman’s body. This isn’t “empowerment”, this is employment. This isn’t nudity, this is the sexualized commodification of a woman’s Photoshopped body being used to earn a corporation millions of dollars.

Sports Illustrated wants this issue sold everywhere. My kids are always out and about with me, there is no way they wouldn’t see this. They are just-turned-9 and almost-7. They would be confused why a sexy lady has “big boobs but a little girl’s vagina”. And how would YOU go about explaining the infantalization of women coupled with body norms for pornography production to a first and third grader?? Really, tell me please how you’d sit down some afternoon and go about that, telling kids who still believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy that pubic hair gets in the camera’s way during sex scenes and now that porn is such a mainstay of our culture the norms of what had been a subset have crossed over and are right there for everyone and their preschooler to see. Remind your little daughter not to absorb these impossible beauty norms and remind your son that real, not-digitally-altered women don’t look like what he’s looking at.

My kids go to school with kids whose parents care much less about media’s impact and the representation of women than I do. My kids don’t live in a bubble, they live in the real world. I want a world for them where women aren’t seen as objects sold on glossy pages for $20.00. That impacts all of us, whether we buy it or not. 

The majority of parents aren’t discussing sexualization nor using media literacy with their children, and I’d rather we look at this as a community of concerned, intelligent adults rather than one-offs and “Well, my kids are fine. Your problem.” Or, “You bitches are crazy go find something better to do.”

But the issue isn’t just, “Oh! What of the children?!”

The objectification of women, the entitlement over women’s bodies created by a society dominated by the male gaze, the crossover of pornography norms into mainstream culture, and the perpetuation of the Beauty Myth spell trouble for ALL of us, whether individuals care to recognize that or not.We are only as good as our lowest moment, and this is about as low as it gets for half the population that would love to be seen as equals or even – and I’m going to get crazy here for a moment – full human beings.

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).