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