Are women who get paid to take off their clothes empowering themselves – or continuing the culture of objectification that the #MeToo movement purports to fight against? That’s the big question about the recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, featuring photos of naked and nearly naked models.
Over the years, the SI Swimsuit Issue has tried various tactics to appear as if it is has a higher purpose than giving men a little excitement.
The magazine has featured photos of an extremely attractive plus-size model and an extremely attractive amputee. And in the most recent issue, it features women with powerful slogans written across their bare bodies in a nod to #MeToo, which describes itself as a “movement to help survivors of sexual violence.”
It’s an odd moment for the Swimsuit Issue.
On one hand, the #MeToo movement is about the issues of harassment, assault and women being devalued and victimized. Yet the women posing for the magazine are choosing to do so and getting paid.
But on the other hand, so much of what #MeToo has come to symbolize is that women aren’t just objects to be looked at. The continuing perception of women as sex objects existing for men’s pleasure is what has led to a culture that devalues women in the workplace and treats them like pieces of meat.
So when Aly Raisman, Hunter McGrady, Robyn Lawley, Sailor Brinkley Cook and Paulina Porizkova pose naked with words written on their bodies in the latest Swimsuit Issue, is it empowering or just more objectification?
Sharing a photo from the shoot on her personal Instagram, Aly Raisman – who had been a victim of sexual molestation at the hands of USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar – captioned her picture: “Women do not have to be modest to be respected – Live for you! Everyone should feel comfortable expressing themselves however makes them happy. Women can be intelligent, fierce, sexy, powerful, strong, advocate for change while wearing what makes them feel best. The time where women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies is OVER. The female body is beautiful and we should all be proud of who we are, inside and out.”
It’s a noble goal, to be proud of yourself and the way you look. It’s naive, though, to imagine that most readers of the Swimsuit Issue, the large majority of whom are men, are picking up the issue to see empowered women.
Writing at Townhall.com, Kevin McCullough states: “Oddly when women are more undressed, it affects men in ways that sometimes are unwanted, undesired and unappreciated by said women. The reason this phenomenon happens is defined as “objectification.” This is when the man actually begins to no longer see the woman as a whole person, (one who is clothed in a physical body and appearance but also complete with a heart, mind, and soul,) but instead begins obsessing about the gratification of conquest.”
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue doesn’t exist to portray women as whole beings, with thoughts and feelings. It exists to showcase them as eye candy.
This isn’t wrong, in and of itself. Women are allowed to show off their beauty. And women should have the power to take off their clothes if they want to, for money or fame or for their own enjoyment.
But let’s not call it empowering just because there are some nice phrases written on a naked woman. Sports Illustrated knows very well that men are not looking at the pictures because they want to read the phrases.