Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover 2015

This blog is going to cross some boundaries, so you have been warned.

The new swimsuit cover is, as usual, front and center on all the newsstands. I thought I had become immune to what I see in the airport and supermarket displays, but this was something else again. I am certainly not posting it; you have already seen it.

The model (Hannah Davis) has obviously had all or most of her pubic hair removed, as have all or most models today. I don't look at pornography, but I have read that the performers in pornographic films have it all removed as well. The degree of anxiety that this new expectation must create in today's girls and women, not to mention the amount of money and time necessary for the procedure, can scarcely be exaggerated. Growing up and coping with sexual situations is complicated enough already; I am very thankful that my contemporaries and I did not have this particular concern to add to all the others. (I noticed that at least one of the actresses in the HBO series Rome had had the procedure; somehow I doubt if that was done in ancient Rome.)

A painting that I love is L'Origine du Monde, by the provocateur Gustave Courbet. (I'm not posting this one, either, but you can easily find it online.)  I have studied the history of art and have been to most of the major art museums, but I didn't know this celebrated painting existed until The New York Review of Books published a reproduction of it a few years ago (inside the journal).  It has only recently been hung in public view, though in a side gallery, at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. In my view it is art, not pornography. It is a picture that I would like for young people to see, with this comment: This is what women are supposed to look like.

There is a school of thought that women who allow themselves to be presented like Hannah Davis are exhibiting female strength. To me, it seems like a regression in women's advancement. I believe that most younger women who are struggling to make a place for themselves will be subtly or not-so-subtly undermined by this sort of objectivization. Sometimes I think there is something to be said for the modesty of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women. The way a woman dresses should never, and I mean never, be used as a justification for rape, but I also think that women are well served by discreet dress (though by all means fashionable, if she likes).

Moreover, adults who care about children should be increasingly concerned about the sexualizing of very young girls. This has been going on for some time and has been observed with alarm, but it continues apace. My precious little great-nieces are going to see this magazine cover and wonder about it. I know exactly how my mother would have dealt with it. She would have said something along these lines: "This picture is all over the United States and many people will look at it, but it is not a picture of the way a woman or girl should allow herself to be photographed and I hope no one in our family will ever want to be like that model." My guess is that most mothers today will simply ignore the cover and say nothing, which will lead the little girl to think that this is the way it has to be. It's not the way it has to be.