The Swimsuit Issue. Talking about sexualized images

My 10 year old doesn’t gravitate to Sports Illustrated but in due course he likely will since the usual content is up his alley.  It may be that he’ll see the Swimsuit Edition before its specific contents attracts him (if in fact it ever will).10653665_10153103793227460_1405273239171219829_n

What would he think about the current cover?  What about his friends who are beginning to notice breasts and hips because they will soon develop them?

I want to pre-emptively talk to my kids about why an image like this has power.  I want to point out what is atypical about this body from the unblemished skin, to the stand straight up breasts, zero hair from the eyebrows down and complete lack of body fat.

It’s easy to see this particular image as (pretty close to) pornography. I have no interest in shaming this woman, or models or even magazines that market to straight men with narrow views of what sexy looks like. I don’t want to communicate that sexuality or depictions of sexuality are bad.  My interest is to bring critical thinking skills to bear.  I want my kids to be actively engaged by media messages.

I want them to know that bodies can be sexy.  And I want them to know how images of this type are planting ideas about what sexy looks like rather than letting everyone decide for themselves.  I want them to see how the image manipulates viewers in ways that can be pleasurable and harmful. So many images offer us opportunities to talk about photoshopped bodies, alluring posturing, and the possible intended impacts.

I’m not going to go out of my way to show him the magazine.  Not this year.  We’ll come across other images (or this one) and I’ll be sure to talk about it with him.   The key is to talk about it.  We can wish these images didn’t exist but let’s not roll our eyes and tense our jaws in outrage. Let’s fight back with talk.

Conversation starters for when your child see a sexualized image:

  • Do you think she’s cold/comfortable in that bikini?  Does it seem like the right outfit for swimming laps or playing beach vollyball?
  • Why do you think this person was chosen for this photo?
  • Do you think this is what she looks like when she wakes up in the morning?  What do you think has been done to make this photo look this way?
  • Why do you think the people who produce this publication want this photo to look this way?
  • Do you think this person is happy?  Do we know anything about this person?  Does that matter?  Do we make assumptions about her?
  • How does this photo make you feel?  How do you think it might make other people feel?

We can start young by messaging body-positivity.  Raise them to love their bodies, and the diversity of bodies, and navigating sexualized and limited body types in media will be less challenging. Here’s an article with tips on raising a body positive kid.

This isn’t my first time writing on the subject.  Here’s what I wrote last time. 

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