Children, Sex, and the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover

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Forget about banning Fifty Shades of Grey.

Believe it or not, an even more disturbing and sexually deviant communiqué has probably already entered your home or your kids’ Instagram or FaceBook accounts.

Yep, I’m talking about that glossy February perennial, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.

If you have not seen it, here’s the 2015 visual: a close-up of 24-year-old model Hannah Davis, sporting tousled long blonde hair, green eyes, and fat Botox lips. On the cover, which by all professional opinions has been heavily photo shopped, Davis is preternaturally skinny, busty, and alarmingly hairless. She’s an alien combination of prepubescence and sexual maturity, depending on whether you are looking at her childlike face; the very adult top half of her body; or the prepubescent portion below her belly button.

Davis’s hands are pulling her microscopic bikini bottom out and downward, to make it explicit that she has been waxed “down there” for maximum appeal. Her breasts are, of course, large, and spilling out of her teeny bikini top. But most chilling is the expression on her face — she looks utterly self-abnegating and eager to please, as if she has just swallowed an economy-size bottle of Quaaludes.

In other words, a new low for Sports Illustrated.

And an unnecessary low. Because Hannah Davis does not, in reality, look like the cover photo. Hanna Davis is a beautiful, astonishingly sexy and appealing 24-year-old woman who is very, very in touch with her sensual appeal. Most of the magazine’s interior photos of Davis, and the soft-core porn video of her on the Sports Illustrated site, show a far more human reality of her actual body.

It’s just the cover photo that makes her look like a freak.

This is all very, very difficult to explain to children.

Deep sigh. Why must we continue to fight this absurd sexist, increasingly pedophilic battle every single February?

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

Here’s what I have to say to my kids in response to this year’s Sports Illustrated cover.

First of all, sex is GREAT. Your body is a wonderland of pleasure and delight. You have every right to feel thrilled and excited about sex and the unique, unmatchable feeling of being attracted and attractive. Don’t be ashamed or concerned if you are drawn to this cover and the erotic images inside the magazine and on the Sports Illustrated website.

Second of all, no one really looks like this woman. Hannah Davis doesn’t even look like her own cover photo. It takes days of prep — usually eating iceberg lettuce, fake tanning, oiling up every millimeter of skin and shaving every inch of body hair, applying full body makeup via industrial spray machines — to get ready for this type of nearly naked photo shoot. Even then, a small army of talented computer nerds are required to photo shop this peculiar photo to meet the editors’ demands.

Third, and hardest to explain in my view, is why it make good business sense (indeed, why it Is even legal) for Sports Illustrated to create this issue every February, and why nearly one million men and women buy this strange magazine year after year.

The business explanation is relatively simple. This Swimsuit Issue was originally created because there is little legitimate professional sports news in mid-February. Over time the edition has turned into a huge moneymaker and publicity machine for the magazine. Sports Illustrated rarely has a female athlete on the cover or featured in its articles; this is the one time of the year the editors find a worthwhile excuse to put a woman in this position of glory. But that doesn’t mean that a sexy almost-naked model has anything to do with actual sports or highlighting women’s athletic achievements; it’s all about using sex to rake in profits.

Next up: why do otherwise rational, humanitarian people like my colleagues, neighbors, college buddies and male relatives gleefully, brazenly buy this issue? Why did my own ex-husband bring this thorny, complex bundle of mixed messages into a home with a teenaged son and two impressionable younger sisters? I find it easier to explain the appeal of Playboy or Penthouse to my kids: straight-up sexual stimulation, plain and simple, without all the pretense that the Swimsuit edition has anything to do with American sports.

Nearly impossible to deconstruct this chimera on a kid-friendly level. So I don’t even try.

What I say to my kids instead: open, healthy expressions of sexuality in my house are encouraged. I try to get them to ask themselves the hard questions:

What’s the upside of worshipping a photo-shopped, fake tanned, hairless woman posing as 50% young girl?

What about this woman is sexually appealing?

Would they feel sexy if their body had to be prepped and primped for days in order to be camera-ready?

How would they react if one of their classmates came to the local pool or swim practice looking like this?

How would they feel if their drastically photo-shopped face and body were on the SI cover?

I’m hoping this rhetorical questioning will help them see how destructive this kind of false idolatry can be, and to develop their own healthy sense of sexuality.

The editors of Sports Illustrated may be idiots. Fortunately, most kids are not.

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