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.


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

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

When Exploited Puppies Are More Outrageous Than Exploited Women

It is not that I do not care about the humane treatment of puppies and all animals, because certainly I do. It is just that as I sit here and type, as a human woman, my breath catches a bit over what our society deems acceptable and that there are things found to be more unacceptable than the exploitation of women.

This week we can use the example of GoDaddy and their predictable Super Bowl advertising shenanigans. The company has been spending many millions since 2005 when it aired its first ad on the big game day to promote their web hosting services. In the decade following we’ve seen one half-minute spot after another using provocatively-dressed women dancing, stripping, and writhing around on cars or old men. Year after year these commercials are the topic of conversation, usually among feminist activists, media literacy folks, and maybe a few angry parents who thought the Super Bowl was supposed to be a family show.

A GoDaddy advertising yearbook.

A GoDaddy advertising yearbook.


For 2015’s Super Bowl ad GoDaddy finally caught on to what the beer companies discovered a while ago: People love animals, especially puppies. GoDaddy has been hyping a commercial starring a Golden Retriever puppy for weeks and when it finally premiered January 27 the internet responded quickly and furiously. With 42,428 signatures at the time of publishing this piece the pro-puppy petition on demanding GoDaddy pull their ad is impressive. Swift consumer outrage aggregated in under 24 hours sends the very clear message they are not buying what they are being sold.

Spokeswoman Danica Patrick plays along with GoDaddy's shenanigans.

Spokeswoman Danica Patrick plays along with GoDaddy’s shenanigans.


And the same day it was released GoDaddy announced it would pull the ad and not air it this Sunday. Of course, you probably guessed correctly that GoDaddy has another thirty second commercial submitted, approved, and ready to go, so it would seem they never intended to air this puppy ad to begin with and instead counted on the free publicity it successfully earned them. The petition was not for nothing, but GoDaddy already had this offensive drive planned out well in advance.

So while we can all agree that puppy mills are terrible, and that GoDaddy would have been so much more clever to use the puppy commercial but instead rewrite the ending to show a couple of kids who run an internet business from their garage shipping pet supplies to families with newly-adopted pups from the Humane Society…….

Can we also agree that the sanctioned sexual exploitation of women that has been habitually approved by both the industry and general public be more outrageous to the public than a puppy being sold online and unsafely transported in a van driven by Danica Patrick?

Because while I love both of the rescue dogs my family owns, I love more the natural born right females hold to be seen as full human beings and something more than sex objects for men.  So it bothers me more than a bit that a fictitious sale of a puppy earns more public outrage than the real, actually-happened sexualization of women for profit.

We’re listening, message received alright.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths… Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  –Source

When we consider that all Super Bowl ads must be submitted and approved by the NFL and the network broadcaster, and that half of the NFL fan base is female, one starts to wonder why it is acceptable to use women’s breasts and commodified sexuality to sell internet domain registrations. Or, anything really.

It has been found acceptable because our society’s majority finds it is acceptable to use sexually desirable women as objects to earn companies money. Sometimes the women are sexually objectified similar to the GoDaddy style and sometimes the woman are actually turned into an object like Carl’s Jr and  Fiat has shown us.

During this commercial we see part of a woman's body turned into a billboard.

During this commercial we see part of a woman’s body turned into a billboard.


The vast majority of ads use objectified, sexualized women to sell a product or service. As research has taught us, the first act of violence against a woman is to remove her humanity and turn her into an object. The Super Bowl commercial breaks are like Oscar night for advertisers and this year half-minute spots go for $4.5 million.  Think about that while you watch the NFL’s anti-domestic violence PSA that will air as it tries to clean up its image around how its players, fans, and advertisers respect and value the humanity of women. Let me know if you see any hypocrisy there.

Should the NFL address the very serious issue of domestic violence against women during the Super Bowl? Absolutely, given the press leading up to the event, the enormous national audience for Sunday’s game, and the celebrity power and influence star players hold in society.

Let’s just remember after the game ends, a woman’s dignity, worth, and safety still have value. When we see that compromised, we should muster the outrage we feel over mistreated puppies and demand respect and safety for women, too.


Learn more about the NFL campaign against domestic violence here:

1.800.799.SAFE (7233) is the National Domestic Violence hotline number.

Learn more about safe and responsible pet adoption from the American Humane Association here: Buying vs Adopting

Learn more about how the sexualization of women in media hurts all of us here: Miss Representation   and  Killing Us Softly

Learn more about how to practice media literacy around Super Bowl ads here: Super Bowl Ads and Media Literacy


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

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