Mark Alexander / February 12, 2018

Sports Illustrated’s Objectification Issue

You don’t change attitudes toward women by posting nude photos.

Sports Illustrated claims it is solving the problem of objectifying women by running photos of nude models painted with a few slogans. I know, this seems like something right out of a satire site like The Babylon Bee, but no, that is precisely what SI is doing to justify its annual “swimsuit issue.”

This is not satire, but it certainly is an award winner from the theater of the absurd.

For some proper perspective on this issue, I turned to my friend Jenny Baker. She has devoted much of her adult life to educating women about the terrible burden of distorted female images propagated by the media — particularly the suffering this creates for adolescent girls.

Jenny is author of The War on Normal, a book devoted to helping women find truth and contentment in their post-baby bodies. She writes, “The media is powerfully influential in defining what constitutes ‘beauty.’ When women continue to see images which set that standard, they begin to believe that’s what they, too, should look like. Over time, we begin to believe we too should strive to comport with the mass media projection of ‘normal,’ and if we don’t comply, we are ‘flawed.’”

Regarding the SI issue, she observes, “Since 1964 the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has been objectifying women, reducing them to nothing more than a sexualized body. The positions, facial expressions and attire all communicate a message of ‘I exist for your pleasure.’ This year SI is attempting to attach this disgraceful annual objectification of women to the ‘#MeToo’ movement — asserting that publishing photos of nude female models will help fight that objectification, and the resulting sexual harassment and assault.”

Jenny notes, “Sports Illustrated is promoting the idea that unless you look the way their models do, and wear and pose they way they dress and pose, your body isn’t to be celebrated. This can result in women feeling inadequate, rejected and even shameful.”

SI’s female editor, MJ Day, in an interview with Vanity Fair (no small irony, in their “Vanities” section), claims that she is “thrilled that this [MeToo] movement is going on because I feel like it’s going to change things for the better.” Day insists that her nude layout is “about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves. That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit Issue.”

Uh, not really. Objectification can lead to harassment, and Day’s nude spread is all about objectification in order to generate ad revenue from magazines sales.

Day says her goal was to make the models “as much participants as objects,” thus inadvertently admitting to the objectification. She claims she is giving them “a real opportunity to be who they are,” noting, “you’re always an actor, you’re always a part of the photograph, you’re always performing for something: for the brand, the photographer, the spirit of the photograph, and you’re never really your most authentic self.”

So, paint some slogans on nudes — that’ll fix it! Nothing says, “I’m not a sexual object,” like getting paid to pose naked.

Day concludes of this annual exercise in objectification, “To be sure, this year’s Swimsuit Issue will still have the swimsuits and sandy beaches its readers have come to expect. These are sexy photos. At the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”

On that assertion, Jenny Baker protests, “MJ Day, must be from some alternate universe. Fighting the objectification of women by posting photos which objectify women? You can’t alter the disrespect of women by objectifying them as a tools of pleasure.”

She concludes, “Perhaps, if Day wanted to change attitudes toward women, she would’ve featured photos of women doing the extraordinary things many of us do every day, rather than nude photos of women with cheap slogans painted on them. As for Sports Illustrated and MJ Day, I now call you ‘#OneOfThem.’”

(Editors Note: ESPN’s “Body Edition” competes with SI’s objectification of women, but maybe they will have more sense than to claim they are doing anything but that.)

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