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?
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.
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.