The Grocery Line, The Swimsuit Issue, and Kids

Simone Marean thinks we can turn Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s controversial cover into a powerful, teachable moment with our kids.

Sports Illustrated is doing us a big favor. Next week they are releasing a swimsuit issue cover that showcases such an absurdly unrealistic version image of “beauty” that can serve us adults as a teachable moment for us, and our kids. Because they are making sure that this image is everywhere, everyone will have the opportunity to join in. In her powerful post, Melissa Atkins Wardy shared Brendan Ripp’s intention, “Sports Illustrated has never tried to launch something this big in the experiential space.” Thanks, Brendan.

Given that we will have little choice but to see this cover in the grocery check out line, pharmacy cashier or convenient store, let’s seize the opportunity to help those youth who see this image learn just what this cover is and how it works. This isn’t to shame Hannah Davis for taking this modeling job, that is her adult choice, but rather prevent some of the negative impact that images such as these have on young people, such as the increasing early sexualization of girls.

*The full version of the magazine cover is shown below*


Here’s a conversation guide to help turn seeing this magazine cover into an opportunity to co-consume media together and connect through dialogue rather than giving the image power through silence. Please adjust to the age of your child:

On Objectification:

Question (to ask your child): That’s a weird image. The magazine is called Sports Illustrated. Why would Sports Illustrated put a woman on the cover who isn’t playing any sport?

Talking Points (to weave into your half of the conversation):

  • Sports Illustrated tends to show men playing sports, and more often shows women not as athletes, but as something for men to look at. While the athletes (men and women) are shown doing something they practice, something they are really skilled at and enjoy doing, these images of women just capture what they look like. We don’t know anything about this woman, Hannah Davis.
  • When we look at people like this, we objectify them. Objectify means to degrade something or somebody to the status of a mere object.

Question: What is the difference between a person, a human, and an object, like a toy?

Talking Points:

  • An object is a thing. You can do whatever you want to it. It can be controlled, bought and sold. The difference is that person has thoughts and feelings. Actions impact them. You can’t and shouldn’t buy and sell or control people – this turns them into objects.
On Media Literacy:

Question: Does this photo look realistic? How do they make photos look unreal?

Talking Points:

  • 9e9d07d0-acef-11e4-b4da-09ed0bec2a2e_sports-illustrated-swimsuit-cover-2015-1- 2This is not a realistic photo.
  • Sports Illustrated used computers and software to change her image. They cut away at the edges of her image to make her smaller, they colored over her skin and face, to remove all her blemishes, wrinkles, and body hair until she doesn’t look like a living person any more. She looks like a doll.
  • Check out Dove’s Evolution video to quickly see how the photo editing process works.

Question: Why would a company, like Sports Illustrated, objectify Hannah?

Talking Points:

  • The more magazines they sell, the more money they make.
  • They believe that if she looked like a human person, people wouldn’t spend $20 to look at her, and that people are more likely to spend $20 to own an unrealistic, objectified image.
On Us:

Question: How does this image hurt girls who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches girls that this is what “beauty” looks like, that this is what they should look like if they want others to find them attractive.
  • Since it is fake, it is teaching girls to see themselves more like objects to be desired (if they are skinny, busty and hairless enough) than like people.
  • Studies have shown that when girls look at photo shopped images like this cover, it takes one to three seconds for them to have a drop in their self-esteem. And, on average, girls are seeing almost 3,000 – 5,000 of these images a day!

Question: How does this hurt boys who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches boys to desire girls as if they were objects.
  • This can make it harder for boys to be friends with girls and to understand that girls are people with feelings, interests, and thoughts.
  • It also teaches boys that “beauty” for girls is skinny, busty and hairless — like the magazine made Hannah look in this photo.

Question: So what can we do?

Talking Points:

  • You can see this cover for the laughable image that it is, turn it over so the person behind you in line doesn’t have to see it, not buy it, share your feelings online (#notbuyingit), scrunch up your face so you remember that you are fully a messy human person and go back to the important things in life, like how good that food in your grocery cart is going to be.
  1. Kathleen

    I am so surprised to see an ad objectifying a teen girl on a website for teaching girls about leadership. This is a poorly placed ad. I am not sure if I am more upset by the advertiser or the website for allowing the ad to be placed here. At least allow the viewer a chance to opt out of looking at it. Forced me to move on from this site and I would assume valuable information. These are not the role models I want for my daughter at 6.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Kathleen,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m confused about what you mean by “an ad objectifying a teen girl”, since we don’t have advertising on our website. If you could help me understand, I’d appreciate it.

      If you are upset by the cover of Sports Illustrated, then we are on the same page. This image was in front of many children when the magazine was sold in grocery stores, and this article is meant to help parents have a conversation with their kids about it. If there is anything more you’d like to say, please feel free to let us know.

  2. Sonya19

    It is unbelievable that this magazine is about sports. I think someone could create a real magazine about real sports. It is of course extremely sad that many girls associate success with this abnormality as if they have nothing to offer in life.

  3. sandra

    Here’s how I handled it when I found this by the beer section, which is connected to the dairy section (another problem) of my grocery store. I got the manager and told him they needed to do a clean up in the dairy section asap. He followed me there. I pointed to the display, which was right there at a child’s eye level and said “What is this crap doing here?” He immediately got apologetic. I told him this is the dairy aisle, for pity sake, where moms bring their little kids and this PORN had no business being where little girls and little boys would see it. In front of their mothers, no less! “I’ll tell corporate,” he immediately said. I said “It’s not just corporate’s problem, it’s yours, because I spend thousands of dollars here each year and it’s THEM (pointed to magazines) or me! This is shameful and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of teaching 2nd grade girls who think they are “fat.” And I’m sick of the objectification.” I turned the magazine over and said, “This sh*t stops now.” I gave him my number and asked him to have corporate call me…becase they answer to customers, not SI. He immediately removed the display and I haven’t seen it since. Props to him for listening.

    Women have to claim their power in those moments when it is threatened. Quit “behaving” and speak your mind!

    • Kimberley

      RIGHT ON SANDRA. I 100% agree, and thank you for your honesty which all of us should be doing. If we all did what Sandra did, things would have to change.

  4. Jeff Briere

    Did you notice that the three dark shadows on her torso formed an arrow pointing down?

  5. Sara

    I can not believe that is the ACTUAL cover of S.I. It’s outrageous!

  6. […] to dip deeply into the parenting wisdom well. It’s painful to talk to kids about this type of mixed-messaging. But it’s […]

  7. Marie tortorello

    Its a sports magazine and shoud be dedicated to all the good sportsmen out there.

  8. Camille Copeland

    I feel like the bottom of my heart just fell out. This woman has been raped of her womanhood on this worldwide magazine that will be seen everywhere. This really dropped me to my knees. I feel such sadness. I will pray for the freedom of all men and women and children to love themselves and love their bodies just as they are. God bless you all.

  9. Kathleen

    This is awesome…the only thing I would modify would be to make some of the talking points less heterocentric so that sex roles do not continue to be reinforced.

  10. Jennifer McClure

    I was viewing this post when my 8 year old son wandered up. His response to the cover was ‘ugh’, and he moved away. He asked me to close it be before he came back.
    This is not a kid who has had any specific ideology preached to him, beyond being an 8 yr old in an IB program.

    This is a great example of how our kids are ripe for the conversation. They get it early on, but need us to shape how they think.

    I guess we are going to the magazine section this month, and I am having a difficult conversation in hopes of raising good men.

  11. Debbie

    Thank you for this article. Put real people on and in these magazines not fake people! Kids have enough issues without looking at this as a role model.

  12. Jane Kouts

    I get the talking points, but I also understand that you used the second photo to add shock value to your instruction on media literacy and objectification. I do not appreciate your adding fuel to the fire in this way. I purpose to avoid images such as these photos of Hannah, as much as possible, so that I may not have to battle the internal struggles that they promote. Your insensitivity is made clear by including the second and more detailed photo, thereby negating your instruction. Why should I use this information to instruct others when you need instruction yourself?

    • Dorothy Ponton

      Hi Jane,

      You brought up a good point, we can be more clear about the inclusion of the entire magazine cover later in the post. A content advisory has been added.

    • Lynn Johnson

      Jane,

      I am confused by your comment. The image that Simone posted second is the exact image that will be on newsstands. It is the exact image that our girls will see. I don’t believe she is adding fuel to the fire. She is just reporting the truth. I am interested to know more about your objection to this.

    • Dana

      I try not to look at images like this either. Part of the process of education and demystification, however, is looking at the image in a supportive and educational context. She mentions in the intro that this (both reading the article and discussing the image with children) is an opportunity “to co-consume media together and connect through dialogue rather than giving the image power through silence.” Looking at the image on our own terms helps us see through it and work with our own fears and confusion – to empower ourselves. That’s the whole point, I think: media literacy.

  13. Thankful Reader

    Thank you, Simone, for this blog. It so clearly explains media literacy and objectification, and everyone needs to understand these concepts! Appreciate your voice and guidance in this relevant conversation.

  14. Ellen

    Simone, Thank you for the specific talking points to use. They help breakdown all the different thoughts and feelings that an image like this can bring up and provide clear, positive steps to take. Thank you. My website is http://www.authenticyou.co (the program you’re using didn’t accept the “co”).

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