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).

Reframe the Campaign: Barbie, Sport Illustrated, and Your Daughter

The pairing of Barbie and the SI swim issue has been highly controversial. I see it as a teaching moment.

The pairing of Barbie and the SI swim issue has been highly controversial. I see it as a teaching moment.

The Sports Illustrated Swim issue has paired up with Mattel’s Barbie for its 50th anniversary.  The magazine hits newsstands today with a feature on Barbie in a celebration of the iconic women who launched careers from SI’s sandy pages. In 1959 Barbie launched her 55 year legacy wearing a black and white bathing suit. Since then, Barbie has turned into a cultural icon just like the SI models offering a personal brand has just as much to do with her beauty as it does her suggested accomplishments (for an 11.5 inch doll). The campaign is called #Unapologetic, the idea being that a woman can be both beautiful and successful and not have to apologize for either.

Good idea, great idea actually, yet perhaps not the right vehicle to deliver the attempted message that women can have agency over their lives and be beautiful and successful without having to answer to anyone. Many people are extremely upset and concerned about a child’s toy appearing in an issue of a magazine meant to sexually objectify women for the male gaze.

People keep asking me “Are you going after this??” and my answer to them is “Not in the way you think”. Let me explain why.

As I spent the weekend thinking about this campaign my head didn’t explode in the way I have become accustomed to it doing when these big stories pop up in the national media every few months or so. I saw some interesting aspects from this marketing campaign I thought were actually useful, namely that the scope of this means the potential of reaching thousands of families who had never thought of these issues before are thinking about them now that they are faced with the clear juxtaposition of their young daughter’s (or son’s) Barbie doll being in a magazine that is a buffet of Photoshopped breasts and asses. Maybe a lot of folks don’t think about the fact that these models (or Barbie) are larger than their “fashion icon” status and that girls’ play with Barbie extends beyond weddings and fashion shows. Girls’ play also focuses on adventure and exploring all kinds of careers. Barbie, to her hype-feminized credit, has had 150 careers. I think it is high time we give our girls a little more credit, too.

Let’s be clear about the most important part of this story from a parenting aspect: Mattel paid SI an undisclosed amount of money for this campaign to run and it just so happens to coincide with the New York Toy Fair at a time when Barbie sales are down 13%. That means something, and it should not be overlooked. It means that Mattel is looking for ways to connect with consumers in order to boost Barbie’s sales and in the court of public opinion the verdict they have soundly received is, “Stop sexualizing our girls and selling them unrealistic beauty standards as their ultimate goal.”

Perhaps this is Mattel’s “Sexy Merida Moment”, when a company unsuspectingly receives massive consumer backlash as savvy parents now educated on the harms of sexualization in childhood tell media content creators, “ENOUGH!”

The media kids consume is important. But Barbie is 11.5 inches of plastic. YOU are their parent. Be more awesome than Barbie.

The media kids consume is important. But Barbie is 11.5 inches of plastic. YOU are their parent. Be more awesome than Barbie.

Everyone has given their opinion on the campaign, so I don’t really feel the need to add my voice in that way. I can rehash stats about women appearing on SI’s cover only 66 times in 57 years, we can (and should!) have long talks about body image and the media’s perpetual push of a narrowly-defined largely-unattainable version of beauty that is sold to females of all ages, we could rage about the blurring of taboo when a child’s toy appears on a magazine’s soft porn issue originally created to compete with Playboy’s early success, and we can talk about why smart and beautiful women would need a sexualized SI springboard to jump to fame and success in the first place.

We could talk. Or we could do.

What I am interested in is telling parents, “Look, the campaign is here like it or not and from a marketing perspective for a brand that has multiple audiences it isn’t a stupid move. But it is your responsibility to reframe this message for your daughter and it is your responsibility to empower her.”  Mattel’s ultimate goal is to make a profit. As a parent to a daughter, your ultimate goal is to raise a girl with a foundation that allows her to grow into a confidant, strong, intelligent, radiant young woman. If you are the parent to a son, it is your responsibility to teach him that objectification is wrong and that girls/women are equals who are capable of a great many things.

Everyone has been talking about this story since it was released a week ago. People in the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook Community are talking about it and using shrewd media literacy skills to break it down. At the end of the day, I’d rather parents focus on what they can pull from the campaign and change the conversation around Barbie.

What the campaign is trying to get at is that a girl or woman is more than the sum of her parts. What they are trying to say is that a girl’s or woman’s worth extends beyond her beauty.  The SI icons they are celebrating are each smart business women with lasting brands that stretch far beyond the pages of SI and that is what parents should be focusing on with their daughters. I may not love everything about Barbie, but at the same time a parent is hard pressed to find another doll that is dressed as a computer engineer, astronaut, surfer, president, teacher, etc. and Barbie isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What I really like behind the campaign is the idea of not having to apologize for being beautiful and successful, and that a girl/woman can be both at the same time. And while Barbie does undeniably fit the mold for “beauty” in our culture, parents can teach their daughter(s) that Barbie is only one type of beauty and the family/child defines beauty on their own terms because we don’t all look like Barbie. Beauty comes from our thoughts, our actions, our relationship with others. Maybe the world sees us as pretty, maybe it doesn’t, but that does not define nor take away the beauty we see in ourselves and share with others.

I also feel this campaign offers some play ideas that creative parents can siphon off because in all honesty,  we have to be the ones leading the charge of giving girls more credit because we know how wicked smart and creative they are.

Some of the play ideas (with our without Barbie) for your daughter are:
– Pretend she is the editor of a magazine (Forbes, Time, Working Mother, Popular Science, New Moon Girls) and has to design an empowering campaign for girls featuring Barbie or a successful woman for her career(s), independence, political ambitions, activism, etc. Would she conduct interviews? Take photos? Create a social media campaign? Teach her how to create her own media, how to tell stories, and how to use her voice.

– Pretend she is the director of the beach photo shoot (she doesn’t need to see the magazine to do this). A trip to the library might be in order to look at travel books to scout locations, and then a Google search at home to check on weather conditions and currency rates. She could establish a budget for the shoot, draw up a passport and foreign money, design a contract for Barbie, plan beach activities for the shoot (soccer, horse back riding, surfing), and then construct an airplane out of boxes or couch cushions. When her play is focused on girls doing things and being agents over their own stories, the concept of girls being objects will feel out of place to her as she grows.

– Pretend she is the icon being celebrated during the anniversary of a women’s publication or as an inaugural figure in the United States’ first ever American Women in History national holiday. Have her write a piece of creative fiction on her lifetime of achievement or a speech she would give at her alma matter. Design a community service event she is the guest of honor for and employ all of her Barbies into the planning and carrying out of that event. Design the dress (or power suit) she would wear to attend the White House dinner hosted by the Madame President of the United States and the first spouse honoring all of the living, amazing American heroines.

– Pretend there was a ship wreck as the team was leaving the photo shoot locale and Barbie is now stranded on an island. What wilderness skills can she employ to survive until Pilot Barbie comes to her aid? Maybe she has to use her experience as an Army battlefield nurse to triage some survivors of the crash and protect all of them until help arrives. Maybe she builds a giant tree house like Swiss Family Robinson or builds her own boat from trees and rescues everyone her damn self.

– If you allow the conversation to stop at the bikinis (or lack thereof), you are a part of the problem not the solution. If your child has seen the magazine, talk about the icons presented but then use the women’s own websites or Google/Wikipedia to learn more about their careers instead of staring at their bikini bodies. Talk about what challenges these women might face if everyone is always focused on how she looks as opposed to what she thinks or does. Question if women always have to look sexy? Talk about what sexy means and who defines it. Talk about struggles the women featured may have overcome in their careers, successes they have had, or philanthropic work they do.

If you need more play ideas and conversation tips to navigate media like this, check out my newly released book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”.

I’m not about to teach my daughter she is an object of beauty to be gazed at and consumed. I’m about creating lasting change, and that starts at home with the little girl I’m raising to be fierce, smart, and independent. I hope you choose to play along, too.

Your daughter does not have to be limited by media messages.

Your daughter does not have to be limited by media messages.

Image 1 source.

Image 2 source.