I sat for probably 30 minutes, staring at the cover and fighting back tears. I was so angry I couldn't get a handle on my thoughts, and didn't know how to harness my words. But I have composed myself, and it's time to unleash.
This year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue features Hailey Clauson on the cover. The tag line on the cover, next to her topless photo, is "This is Hailey Clauson and she is glorious." It's pretty clear what SI thinks is so glorious about Hailey - what they want YOU to also think is glorious: her body, her skin, her barely covered breasts, her hair, her smile, her eyes, her face. She is not a 20-year-old model from Thousand Oaks, CA - she is an object for you to look at, imagine yourself as or with, and other less-desirable things. Because we all know men pick up this issue just to read the articles and get to know these ladies better.
I'm already revolted and I haven't even turned one page.
So let's flip it open, yes? The first ad inside the cover is for Lane Bryant. A gorgeous, African-American plus-size beauty in a bra and undies with the tag line, "This body is made to be uncovered." Is SI looking for some sort of absolution by including a plus-size model in its first ad spread?
Speaking of plus size, this year's issue actually has three different covers: Hailey Clauson, athlete Ronda Rousey, and plus model Ashley Graham. Swimsuit Editor MJ Day writes, "I realized how frequently I was thinking, often aloud, 'What a strong group of women we have this year.' Not only are they stunning, but they are also accomplished authors, advocates and actors. They are world champions and Olympians. They are on the pages of the most prestigious fashion magazines, and they represent some of the most powerful brands [including themselves] in the world." Day believes all this to be true, yet chooses to highlight NONE of it. Instead, she takes these "accomplished" women and puts them in strips of fabric masquerading as swimwear and highlights their tits and ass instead. Let's call it what it is.
So what exactly is it? It's editorial shots of 23 one-piece swimsuits (mostly stringy, strappy, or with cutouts or mesh); 71 bikinis (5 of which include models holding open or pulling down a strap); 8 shots of body paint; 24 topless shots; and 6 completely naked shots (covered in "creative" ways by a lei or a giant leaf). One model even gets her vagina bedazzled. I couldn't make this up if I tried.
Let's be clear. As a woman, I appreciate fashion, beauty and attractiveness. I wear makeup, I style my hair, and I think about the clothes I wear. I even wear a bikini. But I would never - NEVER - think to bejewel my private parts for ANY reason. I just can't fathom it.
Let's talk about the advertisements for a moment. Supposedly sex sells, and it makes sense that a magazine devoted to swimsuits would display ads also featuring swimsuits. Some of these include: brake pads (obviously), Lexus, Snickers, and my personal favorite, shaving cream. "With a smooth shave she may give you a chance" it says, along with a woman wearing a shaving cream bikini. If it wasn't so damaging it would be laughable. (That ad agency must employ pre-pubescent boys because, really?)
It physically angers me that women are involved in putting this issue together. Four of the six editorial staff are females. Is this really the best we can do? Is this how we want to use our intelligence, talents, creativity, skill - creating fodder for objectification and masturbation?
Editor MJ Day says that Sports Illustrated's "position on beauty is well-known - healthy, curvy, vivacious and bold. It's not a size." She also says, "beauty is all around us." She sure makes it sound like the magazine promotes positive body image and female empowerment. Is that why research repeatedly demonstrates the negative effects of objectification in media? Depression, body shame, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, and an association of a woman's worth with her physical appearance and sexual functions are only a few results. Don't be fooled.
I know some of you might say that no one held a gun to these models' heads and forced them into bikinis. I get it, and that's what makes me especially sad. These models think it's some great achievement to make it into this issue - to be a part of the SI Swimsuit family. I read online that 18 million men read Sports Illustrated each week. It's very clear who is in the driver's seat here. Men are the subjects (reading, gawking, gazing) and women are the objects (being pieced apart, gawked at, and worse). I feel so sorry for the models in the issue (or anyone else) who think it's some big prize to be in the issue and especially on the cover. It's not. How can displaying our naked bodies and competing for male attention be a prize? And yet it is. And it's so heartbreaking.
I'm not at all impressed by three different covers, either - it just makes me three times angrier. Putting a plus-size model on the cover does not make her a role model. Putting an athlete on the cover is not groundbreaking. Maybe if the plus-size model wasn't half-naked. Maybe if the athlete wasn't completely naked (body paint). Maybe, just maybe, if these women were being celebrated for their thoughts, opinions, accomplishments, skills, talents, and infinite qualities aside from their physical appearance, I might be impressed.
Women were created in the image of God. We were not created for public consumption. We were not created to be pieced apart, to be trophy wives, to be mannequins for men's entertainment. We are not dancing monkeys gracing covers for men's sexual pleasure. Anyone who thinks these magazines are fun or uplifting or empowering or enjoyable or not at all dangerous - I mean, CALM DOWN Silva - is mistaken. You are mistaken. And I will not calm down, because I have two boys that my husband and I are trying to raise to be gentlemen in this often crappy world. I am fighting an uphill battle to teach them to respect women and treat women as fellow children of God. I am trying to teach them to view women as whole and complete beings, worthy and capable.
Ladies, it's time to raise our standards. Instead of chasing after a bikini body, how about we put our energy into eradicating human trafficking? Instead of glorifying pornography, let's focus on ending genital mutilation or child brides. Instead of comparing, competing with, and constraining each other, let's help each other advance in positive ways. Gentlemen, please be our allies.
We can all do better.