Sports Illustrated is often accused of showing too much in its explicit photoshoots. But in reality, it’s showing much too little.
Last week, Sports Illustrated (SI) began teasing a “candid, new” project called “In Her Own Words” for its 2018 Swimsuit Issue. The endeavor consisted of women modeling nude with descriptive words etched onto their skin, such as “feminist,” “mother,” and “human.”
Although the magazine conceived of the project before #MeToo went viral, veteran SI editor MJ Day insisted her work was connected to the movement.
“It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” Day told Vanity Fair. “That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit Issue.”
Or was it? On Monday, SI advertised “ONE DAY, Y’ALL!” before the issue would hit newsstands in a tweet. That tweet included a photo of a bikini-clad woman’s body – and only her body. Her face and head were cropped out
That’s not showing “her own words,” as the new initiative claims to do. That’s suggesting a woman has no words or thoughts at all. And so the 54-year-old magazine is a part of the problem it claims to fight, capturing women as objects of pleasure, rather than as independent human persons with inherent dignity and worth.
There’s also the project’s wrapping. Released on Tuesday, the issue’s cover starred model Danielle Herrington wearing a skimpy pink bikini – so small that ABC News dressed her with red ribbons in its story.
Even the media called out the magazine for its behavior. The Huffington Post’s headline accused: “Sports Illustrated Isn’t Adapting To The #MeToo Era. It’s Co-Opting It For Profit.” Outlets like NBC News highlighted “Not everyone is happy” while The New Yorker criticized the move as “spectacularly silly.” Christian satire site Babylon Bee mocked SI as taking a “Stand Against Sexual Harassment By Putting Naked Women On Cover.”
Experts like National Center on Sexual Exploitation Executive Director Dawn Hawkins also criticized the issue that tells women and girls that “your value as a human being still ultimately hinges on your sex appeal.”
Day appeared to anticipate the backlash in her Vanity Fair interview.
“These are sexy photos,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening.”
In agreement, the project’s models, including big names like Paulina Porizkova, Sailor Brinkley Cook, Robyn Lawley, applauded the move. Even Olympic gymnast and Larry Nassar survivor Aly Raisman joined in on the photoshoot, and chose to wear the words “women do not have to be modest to be respected.”
She’s right. Women demand respect as human persons. But while the human body is thing of beauty and awe, it can also be misused, as the #MeToo movement demonstrates.
As author Christopher West writes in his explanation of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the “problem with pornography is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.”
The same is true in this instance. With this project, SI’s viewers consume women stripped naked, posing seductively with only words like “feminist” and “mother” to tell their audience that they are more than a body. That shows too little. Instead, SI could show these women living as feminists. It could show these women juggling a career and kids.
It’s not enough for these women to only wear a few words, while a picture is worth a thousand.
Even actress Angelina Jolie, who’s done her fair share of casting off clothes in film, tells her daughters not to focus solely on their bodies.
“What sets you apart is what you are willing to do for others,” she recently revealed to Elle. “Anyone can put on a dress and makeup. It’s your mind that will define you.”
If only Sports Illustrated could bare that.