The Great Bikini Debate

I get asked questions similar to the one below about girls and bikinis regularly and my answer is always the same: A child needs to be able to move her body in the ways that childhood requires. And, wear sunscreen.

Bikini

Is your daughter an instrument of play or an ornament of cute in her suit?

Parent Question: My friends and I have been discussing the topic of bikinis lately. We’d love to hear your advice about how to talk to our daughters about why our families choose not to have young girls wear bikinis. We’re having a hard time finding the right words – we don’t want to convey that they should be ashamed of their bodies (or we think they should be ashamed of their bodies) or that it is their responsibility to “prevent” others from being attracted to them (e.g., rape culture, current discussions regarding school dress codes). Please point us in the right direction!

PPBB Answer: Hi Jill – First, let me say that I love that you and your friends are aware of the issues of body shaming and Rape Culture mind set. We’re starting off on the right foot here! People don’t like bikinis for a number of reasons for little girls, but for me there are two:

1. Little girls don’t need to worry about being sexy, it is not age appropriate.

Some bikinis sold for children are way too sexy for my comfort level as a sex-positive person who wants these girls to have the freedom to develop their own sense of sexuality in their own time.

2. Some bikinis would limit or prevent movement and play, which is a child’s job, and really the main reason I do not like them on children.

If range of play and motion is inhibited I really discourage parents from buying things that teach girls not to take up space in the world. (Tight, low-cut jeans is another example of this. I hear about it all the time from gym teachers in elementary schools.) 

Also – there is the issue of sun protection for the skin and less suit means more sun exposure on young skin.

I don’t think all bikinis are problematic and I’m not against girls wearing them. Some of them are really cute! I think the cut of the suit is critical. Tankinis are a good compromise, especially where you can mix and match tops and bottoms – super fun! Two pieces also make potty breaks easier. 

Not all bikinis are cut and built the same, so this post is focusing more in skimpy cuts. When you are constantly tugging a skimpy bikini back in place or worried some private parts may splash out you aren’t having as much fun as you should be.

If your daughter has a bikini that allows her to play and be a fish in the pool or ocean then GREAT! Wear sunscreen.

Recently I chaperoned a trip to a water park with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I smiled to myself when I overheard the girls (ages 8-12) saying that when we head to the giant water park tomorrow it was a “one piece suit kind of day” because they wanted to play hard and fly fast down water slides and not worry about what they looked like or what might get exposed. 100% yes to this! Smart girls!!
Greater than the issue of sexualization of children, for me, is the restriction of moment and self-consciousness a bikini might create that takes away from a girl her natural right to feel good and carefree in her body to play, romp, jump, swim, dive, slide, cannonball and somersault in the water uninhibited.
There is no magical medicine for our girls when it comes to the ills society will soon teach them about body image, beauty standards, obligation of sexiness, and gender roles. But learning to take up space in the world, to be daring, try new things, and enjoying all the amazing things your body can do, and that those are WAY more important than what it looks like is a pretty damn good elixir.

 

I would explain to the girls that some bikinis don’t stay in place like tankinis or one pieces do. Who wants to be tugging on their suit all day, or lose their bottoms on a water slide or big wave in the ocean? I’ve been a lifeguard and swim instructor for years and I constantly see girls tugging their bikinis back in place. Every male teacher I’ve worked with has told me the skimpy bikinis on little girls creep them out and make them really uncomfortable. The tops to the suits don’t stay in place while swimming and they are concerned they’ll be accused of something that was not taking place while they are holding the beginning swimmer around the chest and the suit has changed position. I’ve actually had great conversations with these college-aged guys on the sexualization of girls, something that totally confound them. Do they love string bikini on a young woman their age? Yep! On a five year old? Please God no. They’ve had great insights on our cultural phenomenon of sexualizing our girls in the age of helicopter parenting.

 

Last summer I had no issues telling my nine year old that a bikini she inherited was cut in a way that grown up ladies bikinis are cut to enhance their breasts (skimpy triangle cut) and that it was not appropriate for a child. During our conversation she said to me, “Well, if Dad says it is okay can I wear it?” My reply to her was that her dad does not control her body nor give permissions for it, that is her job and she is responsible for making good decisions once she has the information to make them. So I let her wear the bikini around the house one day and for a few hours counted the number of times she had to tug it and put it back in place. 47 tugs later I asked if she understood my point that bikinis are great for laying still while tanning and looking sexy by the pool for grown ups. Kids are supposed to play and have no need to look sexy. She got it, mostly because I allowed her to teach the message to herself.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Growing Up Girl

This afternoon I was driving my kids to their first day of gymnastics class and I had one of those moments when you want to throat punch the universe. Some days, it feels like you can’t win for trying when it comes to raising strong girls. Let me explain.

My daughter was so excited for today. She finally had a *real* gymnastics outfit and looked like a pro. She’d been talking about this for weeks. I looked at her in the review mirror, the late afternoon sun shining behind her as brightly as the smile she flashed back at me. I was excited for her to learn new ways her body could be strong, to see how powerful her muscles could be.

But oh, the irony….

When we stopped at the first red light, to our immediate right was a “gentlemen’s” club. The sign out front said, “Girls! Start those college savings. Dancers Wanted.” My daughter read it, speaking quietly as she tried to make sense of the message behind the words. And then she went silent. She has a nine-year-old’s understanding of what goes on in those places thanks to an over-informed classmate. I said nothing, giving her time to process and knowing her questions would begin any minute.

We made it a mile or two down the road and came to a second red light. This time, to our immediate left was a girl in the tiniest bikini and highest stilettos you can imagine teetering by a fence for what looked like a commercial photo shoot. For yard sheds, the kind you throw in your back yard to hold lawn mowers and patio furniture. Her nearly naked body was being used to market and sell yard sheds, and my daughter was figuring this out as she gazed out the window on her way to gymnastics class where she was so excited to wear her new uniform and learn to do a cartwheel.

And I started to feel the hot rage you get behind your eyeballs when you are just so sick and tired of the fuckery your daughters have to experience as girls growing up in this world.

This is everywhere. All. the. Time. Everywhere the objectification of women, the turning them into objects for sex and nothing more. Mind you, I live in the Heartland. We weren’t driving down The Strip in Vegas. We were on the 51 in Beloit, Wisconsin.

No matter how I try to raise my kids – my daughter to be a strong woman and my son to be a man who respects all women – it is stuff like this afternoon’s drive that make me feel like I needed Joan of Arc battle armor at my baby shower instead of a diaper genie. 

Because I’ll will never stop fighting for my daughter’s heart to be free and unburdened by messages she gets from so many places that her sex is her worth. To hell with that.

I will never stop fighting for my son to know that all girls and women have worth simply by being. Neither of my children will fall victim to a society that treats women like disposable objects.

I feel rage because the offer to strip for college cash isn’t offered to boys. It isn’t a choice they have to make. Why are there not billboards up and down the highway offering these same girls internships in the business world? As a mother to a daughter I feel like a mother to all daughters, and I am angry for them. These girls are barely 18 years old and they are immediately being pulled into the sex trade.

The messages about the value of a woman’s body that my daughter got on the way to class are the exact opposite to those I hoped she would get in class.

Her body is strong. Capable. Graceful. Powerful. Her body has value because it houses HER. She is nobody’s object. Full stop.

We arrive at the YMCA for class and we have to pass through the gym to get the the gymnastics room. In the gym are a dozen high school girls playing volleyball. They are all different sizes, they are sweating, and they are playing hard.

I thought about pausing with Amelia in the gym and giving her some kind of pep talk like: “You know that sign about college we passed at that club and that girl in the bikini….you don’t have to do those things to make money for college. You can get all kinds of jobs or start a business or do an internship. You can earn academic scholarships. And see these girls playing volleyball? They could go to college on an athletic scholarship. Just like your swim teacher.”

I didn’t say any of that. I didn’t have time.

Because as my daughter walked through the gym and saw the volleyball players her mouth briefly dropped open in awe of all the teenagerness around her and then she turned to me and said, “Oh, and by the way, THAT is how you get to college using your body. Yes, I read the sign on the road and saw Ms. Bikini and what a bunch of bullshit.”

Friends, we live to fight another day.

Joan of Arc

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Elbows to Ankles

I’ve been speaking with the mom of a high school girl who was told at school this morning that her dress to her knees, cardigan to her elbows, and leggings underneath was inappropriate for school. The only skin this girl was showing was her forearms and hands. A school official told her boys were being distracted by her leggings and she would need to change. The girl asked if she should just remove her legs. The girl’s mother responded to the school official saying the problem was not her daughter’s legs but the boys’ behavior.

This is why I am against mandated t-shirts at pool parties, sexist dress codes, and the backwards Puritan belief our abstinence-is-best culture in the United States has – especially in our high schools and middle schools – that by forcing girls to cover up and not teaching kids about sex they won’t become sexual beings until they magically arrive at college and know how to behave, dress, and respond to each other. Girls’ bodies are not the problem. Our response to them, is.

Yes, I am profoundly against the sexualization of children and the media’s objectification of women. That is not the same thing as being anti-sex, or obtuse to the fact that our children will become sexual beings with sexual urges. That part I’m cool with.

I live in and am raising a daughter in a culture where men are attracted to every part of a woman’s body because I live in a sexually repressed culture, propagated by attitudes that females should cover up to avoid inevitable sexual arousal. I live in a culture where men are sexually attracted to my mouth, my eyes, my hair, my shoulders, my breasts, my hips, my butt, my legs, my toes….which is their issue, not mine. I will not hide away any part of my being – not my body, not my voice, not my mind. I dress how I want in a way that makes me feel amazing and I walk through my world with confidence and self-respect. I walk through my world in a way that very clearly sends the message to men they will respect me, regardless of what body part they may or may not be looking at. I am making sure my daughter is learning to do the same. I don’t view sexuality as a shameful thing. Acting disrespectfully towards another being in a sexual way is shameful. I am making sure my daughter and my son know that men and boys are intelligent beings capable of empathy, kindness, and self-control.

Sexuality in general means various people will find various body parts arousing. The basis to the argument that body parts should be covered up to avoid arousal places the onus on the viewee as opposed to the viewer. That argument feeds directly into Rape Culture and overall shaming of the female body as a vessel of sin and corruption of men/boys that must remain covered so as to avoid any sexual attraction. This leads to the removal of agency from females and gives entitlement to men as female bodies have shifted from sexual beings to objects they can police. This argument also leads to the expectation that boys/men cannot control themselves at any hint of sexual arousal and females must do all they can to not wake the beast.

Sexual arousal happens when women are fully covered – in military uniforms, burkas, business attire, a winter coat. Are we to stay completely out of sight?

There is no shame in our daughters' bodies growing into a woman's form.

There is no shame in our daughters’ bodies growing into a woman’s form.

I cannot disagree more with that framework of thinking. I do not believe in asking females to cover their bodies and being responsible for avoiding any hint of sexuality or sexual arousal.

I believe males are capable of controlling themselves. I believe human sexuality is not a shameful thing and should not be repressed.

I believe strongly we teach those becoming sexually aroused to control themselves, teach them to better understand the nature of sex and how to respond appropriately and respectfully to it.

I would never make my son nor my daughter wear a t-shirt to cover their body. I will make every effort to teach them openly about sexuality in a sex positive way.

Yes, students should dress appropriately for school. Don’t wear Saturday on a Wednesday. Yes, we should teach our girls the difference between objectifying themselves sexually and feeling, experiencing their sexuality.

But when we live in a country where day after day girls all across our nation are being told by the media to be sexy all the time, being told by their hearts to find the person they are, being told by their schools their education is less valuable than a boy’s and to cover up/go home/sit in detention because their distracting body caused a boy to look at them even when they are covered from elbow to ankle……we’ve got problems.

Bigger than any baggy t-shirt can cover.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

UPDATE: The following question was asked during our Facebook discussion and I thought it would be important to add it here. From Tristin, Okay I have a question. I 100% agree with everything you wrote above (and read your book and recommend it to everyone). I read in your book about talking to our daughters about establishing the personal brand they’d like to convey to the world, and I think this is a great tool. My question is, though, about what happens when our girls decide that a particular brand they wish to convey doesn’t fit with what we as parents deem age appropriate? Who is to say that 14 or 15 is too young to wear such and such outfit? It’s her body- shouldn’t she have the right to choose how much skin she shows? What happens when I as a parent disagree with her decisions about how she chooses to present her body? And also, who gets to decide what is age appropriate? Shouldn’t a school have some say in this? But where is the line between making these decisions and policing girls’ bodies and choices?

My answer:  When girls choose a brand that we know to be age inappropriate or overtly focused on sex appeal vs whole being it is our job to coach and consult with them until they get it. It may take blood, sweat, and tears on our part, but we have to strike a balance between allowing her to develop into her own sexuality and keeping her age appropriate and not buying into copying what the media is grooming her to do.
If she is dressing in a sexually provocative way that is age inappropriate she clearly isn’t choosing that for herself, she’s been groomed to do it and is parroting what she’s learned – probably from the media and other girls. Since this decision isn’t coming from a place of authenticity it is okay to say, “No, you won’t be wearing that and here’s why. Please go choose a more appropriate outfit for an 11yo girl. When you are 19 and come home from college, that outfit will be fine. Today you are 11yo and you will dress like it.”
Again, not shaming, just teaching her there is a time and place for sexy. 11yo is never it. 14/15yo isn’t it. 16, 17, 18….I think that is generally the age where girls are moving beyond having crushes on boys (or girls) to really understanding the want to have sexual encounters and figuring out how to facilitate that. I remember that age. I remember knowing exactly what I was doing.

All I can say to that: each family needs to approach that in a way that feels comfortable for them. That will be different for each family. I am very open with my kids about sexuality and the human body, but that doesn’t mean they watch sexualized media now and that doesn’t mean I’ll want them feeling free to have sex in high school. The hormones will certainly be there, the emotional maturity a sexual relationship requires will not be. In that sense, they can wait.

Allowing her to develop a personal brand doesn’t mean she gets to do whatever she wants. It means you let her show you who she wants to be in the world and then we act like parents and say “I think you’ve made great choices” or, “I think that outfit sends some strong messages that you may not be aware of, or are aware of and then I’d like to talk to you about why you seem to focus on that one small part of you instead of all of you.” So it isn’t about shaming her, rather teaching her she is more than the sum of her parts and that there is more to life and one’s self-esteem than getting sexually-motivated attention from guys (or girls).

And you have to allow her to make mistakes. Talk to her about them and help her learn from them. As well as, help her learn from the mistakes of others’ because in high school I was sexually objectified while wearing my normal clothes, my cheer uniform, my soccer uniform, my uniform at the grocery store I worked at……you get the picture.

As you can see – these are all private, delicate conversations with a trusted individual that for 98% of girls will not be their school. This isn’t one conversation, it is ongoing little convos that help a girl develop her brand and in that, allow her the space to come into her own and allow her sexuality to actualize. That is a beautiful part of life and being a woman.
And I don’t want my child’s school having any part of that, nor policing it.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

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).