A Toronto mom has issued a complaint to her local Loblaws over the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Pauline Stanley told Global News that, “It was in full display at a child’s eye level in the women’s health and fitness section. There were Frozen books below and wedding books above.” Stanley has a six-year-old daughter. The cover photo in question features model Hannah Davis pulling down her bikini bottom while smiling suggestively at the camera. The cheeky cover line reads: “Hannah Davis Goes Down South…” which is clearly meant to conjure more than an innocent image of farm life.
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition has been an annual feature for 51 years and is a major money-maker for a magazine that’s been steadily losing revenue. Forbes called this year’s edition the “sexiest, most controversial and saddest yet.” While I feel for print publications that are struggling with new revenue models, I’d have to agree with Stanley and Forbes on this one. I’ve always thought the swimsuit edition was ridiculous and bordering on offensive. I particularly don’t like this year’s edition. Maybe Stanley is right and complaining to the large companies is a way for consumers to send a message to SI that we aren’t interested in their attempts at relevancy anymore.
It’s not because I’m a prude—I’m all for celebrating the naked body in all its glory. But I’m not a fan of an overly sexualized culture that worships an unattainable female form that can only be created through the wonders of Photoshop. I’m especially not a fan of the message it sends about the role of women in sports. My nephew is a sports-addicted 12-year-old. My sister called me after she intercepted this issue in the mailbox and wondered what she would say to her son about the cover. As for me, what do I say to my athletic daughter when she sees the issue lying around?
Perhaps the SI cover can be treated as an opportunity to teach media criticism to our kids, as Marnie the Sexplainer suggests. Ask your child questions such as: “Do you think she’s cold/comfortable in that bikini?” or “Do you think she woke up that way?” I like to talk about Photoshop with my kids and show pictures of models in real life so they can see the difference. The swimsuit edition sends a message to our girls that their value lies in physical beauty and not their personal strengths or ambitions. It tells our boys that women are merely decoration, objects to be defined by their appearance in a bikini—to be voted on and dissected like sports statistics.
It’s unfortunate that a respected brand of sports journalism views women this way. Do you know how many times a woman was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2014? Seven, according to ET online. “In 2014, women appeared on only seven covers (one was the swimsuit edition, three were variants of the same issue, one was a female athlete in a crowd shot, and one featured two cheerleaders rooting on a male athlete).” But to SI’s credit, one of those covers was of 13-year old pitching phenomenon Mo’Ne Davis. But this isn’t enough.
There are a lot of incredible female athletes and I think it’s the role of a sports magazine to educate sports fans on some of them. SI has an opportunity to be a leader and get people excited about amazing women in sports. Once in a while, like their coverage of Mo’Ne Davis, they get it right. But, at the end of the day, the message is still that women’s bodies are a commodity and are more important than her talent. This ridiculous poll confirms it: “Toss Up: Which female athlete had the hottest SI Swimsuit shoot?”
Instead of celebrating female athletes, SI is expanding the swimsuit edition brand with a website and upcoming documentary. According to the swimsuit edition’s female editor MJ Day, they want to “humanize” the models and show that they are more “than a pretty face.” Seriously? That’s their priority? Wouldn’t it be nice if they spent that same amount of time and effort promoting female athletes instead of bikini models?
Male athletes and female models are not the same. I’m not sure why Sports Illustrated is confused by that. And I’ll talk to my kids about the SI swimsuit edition because I certainly don’t want my kids to be confused either.