Why did the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover bring me to tears?
(Hint: It had nothing to do with wanting to look like the model.)
It was because I have no idea how I’m going to explain the image to my two sons (ages six and eight), who love sports and are about to be SI’s target market.
When the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (SISI) cover image hit the internet last Thursday, I happened to be at my kids’ soccer practice. I was watching them run, jump, and practice with gusto (yes, gusto) as they were being coached by a female athlete. A twenty-something who played at a national level during college — and who now teaches kids to go all out for the game.
She was not in a bikini. Nor did she make like she was about to take her skivvies off.
So it hit me there on the sidelines that no matter what I try to teach my own kids about respecting women, and no matter how many inspiring female athletes they meet, my boys — all of our boys — are still going to get the message from powerful mass culture outlets that sports are theirs to dominate. As for girls’ role in athletics, that’s easy: To be hot and looked at.
How is it that we are we still fighting this battle?
We’ve had three waves of feminism; we live in a post-Title IX and post-Girl Power culture where we’re consciously raising girls to participate, excel, and Lean In. And yet this image makes me think of the tweet Rashida Jones (love her!) caught hell for last fall: “This week’s celeb news takeaway: She who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores”
I don’t expect Sports Illustrated to catalyze the revolution when it comes to media portrayals of girls and women — and I’m trying really hard not to get all judgmental about the women who choose to be featured in the SISI. In fact, in an ironic way, their choices actually show how smart they are. They’ve clued into which women in our culture are celebrated and financially rewarded, and they’re gettin’ some rewards for themselves.
But I wish — oh, how I wish — that we could educate ourselves out of being a market for these messages and images. That we could raise a generation of girls who won’t be seduced by the “glamour” and reward of trading on their appearance. And that we could raise an army of boys who don’t expect girls to look/act this way, and who don’t feel entitled to consume such images of women in just about all media that targets them.
With any luck (and a lot of work), it will be my boys who help lead the way.
Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty, a media literacy and body image guide for teen girls. She writes regularly about trending pop culture issues for national newspapers, websites and magazines including The Washington Post, SmartMom and XoJane.com. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.