Why I censored the Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated

Sports illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Kate UptonMy 11yo son is pretty upset with me right now. He’s had a subscription to Sports Illustrated for about ten months or so and was enthused about getting the swimsuit edition, the issue of the magazine that’s devoted to gals in exotic locations wearing skimpy bikinis.

Except when it arrived in the mail, I made a doubtless controversial parenting decision and tossed it straight into the recycle bin rather than putting it on the table as I do any other magazine we receive.

He’s not happy about that. In fact, he knows that it’s swimsuit edition time because one of his 11yo buddies received the issue and was talking about it at school. At eleven.

Look at the photo of the cover, though, and you might get a hint of why I made this call: to be blunt, the swimsuit edition is just pornographic. There’s not much artistic about it, and it sure doesn’t seem to me that it’s any sort of celebration of the most attractive male and female athletes. Just supermodels as close to naked as they can get away with.

Also — and I realize this might be missing the point, but it’s how I look at things — I’ve spent a lot of time at beaches, in Florida, Hawaii, California, and various islands in the Caribbean (I’m a beach guy and grew up on SoCal beaches) but the kind of teeny, tiny bikinis that the models are wearing are nothing you’d ever see in real life. Look at the cover model, Kate Upton, and her bikini bottom on the cover shot. It’s just barely more than having a 1″ square of tape over her genitals and would probably get her arrested for public indecency in most beach communities.

There’s also a rather creepy undertone in middle aged guys lusting over models who are portrayed as prepubescent (completely free of any pubic or body hair) but that’s a more complex discussion that isn’t really relevant other than to note in passing…

More importantly, this is not something my son needs to see at his young age. At 15, I imagine I’ll have lost some level of control over his life, but at 11, when he’s in sixth grade and already very much a part of our overly sexualized world, it’s not good at any level.

Instead, I told him it was too pornographic and got rid of it and that I was more worried about him learning to respect and honor women in our modern society than him learning that there are some just-about-naked women who have been Photoshopped to perfection for a national magazine. He wasn’t impressed, but if I don’t talk about this as his father, who will?

What do you think, though? Was I wrong in tossing the magazine without him being able to check it out, wrong in giving him a brief lecture about how real relationships work and how pornographic images like this just set unreasonable – and damaging – expectations of women in our culture?

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  1. Do you allow him unsupervised access to the web? He’ll find stuff on the web that is a darn sight more hard core than Sports Illustrated. Did you ask him to close his eyes when his friends show him their copies of Sports Illustrated? Do you supervise his television watching? I daresay there is material on television all the time that is a darn sight more revealing, more disrespectful of women, more highly sexualisd, than Sports Illustrated.

    There may not be any “artistic”/”aesthetic” value to the photograph (although it’s worth pointing out that lesser beings than ourselves have tried to define what constitutes art, and failed miserably). But I think you failed to make the link between “respect and honor” and naked bodies. From your description of the event, it seems to me you did not explain the downside in any detail or specifics.

    How is it disrespectful to look at a photograph of a naked body, or indeed, to look at the naked body itself? It would be disrespectful to make disparaging comments about a person’s body, eg “that woman is fat, she looks like a doughnut”. But I don’t understand why it is disrespectful just to look.

    masterymistery at
    cosmic rapture

  2. Sorry for two comments, but I just realised something else relevant to the issue: Your publishing of the photograph in your blog is spreading the “disrespect” even more widely, putting it in front of even more eyes, giving it more exposure and credibility, than would have been the case in allowing your son to keep the magazine.

    masterymistery at
    cosmic rapture


  3. Thanks for your comments, MM. First off, people seeing the image on my blog are already in an environment where they can see the magazine cover and similar imagery. I’m expecting that my core readership isn’t comprised of 11yo boys. I could be wrong. :-)

    In terms of your earlier note, I surmise that you aren’t a parent. As a parent, particularly a single parent, I am well aware that I have decreasing levels of control over what my son sees, experiences and does out in the world, including at his friend’s houses. That’s inevitable. What I do have control over, however, is what happens within my own sphere of influence, and when I flipped through this issue of SI, I was pretty shocked at how easily they could have just said “The Penthouse Edition” and been more straightforward.

    Am I a prude? Hardly. But I am passionate about raising children that have a good chance of being honest, decent, honorable adults, able to get into healthy and functional relationships and sustain them, not be unable to accept the imperfections of reality. Life isn’t a quest for perfection, it’s a journey towards acceptance, and this issue of Sports Illustrated doesn’t help him (or my two daughters) along the path. Your mileage may vary. :-)

  4. Well done, Dave!!

    Each small conscious decision in raising your son to be respectful of everyone is a victory.

    I’m glad you’re a thoughtful Dad and doing what you can to protect your son from psychologically damaging images in your home. After studying semiotics and visual communication for years at the Univ of IL-Chicago, I know for a fact, images that degrade women are in fact quite dangerous not only to society but to the individual.

    I like you even more now!!

    More power to you!
    Felicia -Not Afraid to Share My Real Name – Slattery

  5. I think it’s great that you’re talking to your son and about this. I wish my ex would do the same. Boys and girls need to understand that nudity of a real model (for say a sculpture) is art and will look completely different than these ‘models’. But using these images is just a way to sell stuff

    Way to go!

  6. This whole post looks SEO’d to rank for the very things that it is supposedly taking issue with… I might be more inclined to believe your intentions were pure were “Kate Upton Swimsuit Model” not being advertised on the right #JustSaying

  7. I’m impressed by the thoughtfulness of your actions in relation to your son and his view of nudity, sexuality and women. Very impressed. I know fathers who share their Playboys with their 11/12 yr old sons…And I don’t think it inappropriate to post the pic…what children read ‘Go Fatherhood”?? I hadn’t seen the pic and I appreciate knowing what you’re talking about. Funny how people would question your ‘intentions’. I do think open conversations with kids about this issue are valuable also, as MM suggests…

  8. I was twelve when I saw my first Playboy magazine and it didn’t damage me. I was aware enough to recognize the “commercialness” of it. I’m not a parent and never will be one, but I would think that these types of decisions need to be based on the individual maturity of the teenager in question. If you’re son can understand and distinguish between real life and photoshopped pictures and appreciate women and men as a whole, then it’s ok. Otherwise, waiting a couple of years if fine.

  9. I whole heartedly agree with your decision. It seems to me the whole point of the magazine is to appeal to people looking at scantily clad women. An 11 year old needs to learn to respect women and respect their bodies too.

  10. You said it right at the top, Dave: your son has a subscription to SI, which you obviously allowed, knowing they have a “swimsuit issue” every year. Once you allow that, it’s his property, and you really disrespected his humanity by tossing his property out.

    If you had concerns with it, and I don’t doubt that you did, this was your golden opportunity to have a terrific discussion about the objectification of women. Instead I imagine there was a shouting match. It was a great teachable moment, yet all he learned was that you don’t respect his property.

    • Hi Dave,

      I completely agree with Randy here. I almost don’t know where to start. Wait, yes I do, I’ll start with I’m the father of three daughters. The theme in our household from day one has been to respect themselves as a person, to be strong yet celebrate their femininity, never be subordinate and to expect and fight for equality. We also don’t deny their sensuality. Humans are sexual creatures. Your son is naturally drawn to and excited by the beautiful figures depicted in that issue. It reaches him at a deep and fundamental level. As it does you I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself.

      Just because you ignore something, cover it up or throw it in the trash does not make it go away. It actually makes it all the more irresistible. Education and directly confronting these issues honestly and candidly is the only way. You can bet your bottom dollar he will be seeking out the other copies of the swim suite issue that his friends have. And now that he knows he can’t bring things “out over the edge” to you to discuss, he is more likely get his info elsewhere. And THAT is the real tragedy here, not him looking at a few women.

      As Randy said, it sounds like you missed a golden opportunity to share your feelings and concerns AND validate his, not deny them! Once you gain his attention by agreeing that yes these are indeed beautiful women, then you can get into the objectification of women, that these aren’t actually perfect women and how potentially detrimental this is to society and the impossible and unrealistic standard that is forever set for women (and men) in general. Of course all of that would need to be slowly layered on him over time. I mean he’s 11 frickin’ years old!

      Finally, I feel appreciating the human form of both women and men is a natural thing, if we have the honesty to admit it. Appreciating these models both male and female and respecting and honoring them, is not mutually exclusive. And btw to call these pictures pornographic is truly…silly.

      The lesson for all of us and our children is in acknowledging and remembering that these people are photoshopped, are not presented in realistic scenarios. It’s for fun and entertainment, not as goals for us to try obtain.

      But I guess we all draw the line at different places.

      Tom Malcolm

  11. My son will be 15 this month, and we buy him the SI subscription for his birthday. He does not get the swimsuit edition either. He has parental controls on his computer as well. Yes, I know he likely sees things I would prefer he didn’t in other homes and heck, walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall, but I am not going to provide it for him. The statement that it is his property because it is his subscription is nonsense. Minors don’t have a whole lot of rights.

  12. Fascinating discussion, all. Thanks for the thought-provoking comments. I’m confused about the people who are saying that since it’s available in other places that I shouldn’t bother limiting my son’s access. Are you also in favor of him at 11 going to see R rated movies?

    My take on this is I’m his father. I’m not his friend, I’m not his buddy, I’m not his peer. What I watch or enjoy is irrelevant as I’m not 11 nor am I living under my father’s roof.

    Am I setting a bad example by censoring the magazine without him having a chance to see it? I don’t think so. I mean, if a well-meaning company sent him a torture-porn video, it’s my job to make it vanish before he sees the invariably upsetting and quite possibly nightmare-inducing box, let alone watch the video itself. Does anyone disagree? Do you think that children of any age are mentally and emotionally capable of consuming and discerning between material of any level of maturity or imagery? Plenty of research shows you’d be wrong…

    And did people note my earlier comment about how pornographic the images in the issue actually are? I don’t have a problem with my son looking at cute girls in swimsuits or shorts. I have a problem with him getting a magazine that *I* as an adult found obscene and something I’d hide from my children if I’d decided to keep it. It’s a continuum and if anyone got the impression I’m a prude or uptight about my son starting to experience life as a male in our culture, you’d be wrong. But in small doses, and at a level he can handle and with discussion and examination of what’s being presented and how it compares to the experiences he has on a daily basis.

    Anyway, a good discussion. Those of you without children, however, you might want to ask whether the supportive, less critical comments of those people who are parents aren’t worth a bit more consideration before you condemn me for my actions…

  13. I haven’t read all the comments but did read this entire article. The interesting thing is, I went into Fresh Market tonight to return a Red Box movie (Moneyball), which happens to be right by the magazine section.

    There was a line of two people in front of me: one was the guy returning his DVD, the 2nd was an older man looking at a magazine.

    I wouldn’t have paid much attention to what he was looking at until he said to me, “Go ahead, you may be returning the DVD I want to check out, ha ha ha…”

    I glanced down at the magazine he was looking at and low and behold, I saw a “practically naked” woman…

    Yep, this older gentleman was looking at the magazine that’s the topic of this conversation.

    This may be too much information to share, but I’m going to share it anyway: when I was about 10 or maybe 11 or 12, I too had a subscription to Sports Illustrated. I happened to find the Swimsuit Issue at the time and hid it away in my room before my parents realized it had come in the mail.

    To make a long story short, that was the start of an addiction that I’ve been battling for over 25 years now, an addiction that has the potential to destroy my family, my career, and even my life.

    It didn’t start with hard-core pornography.

    It started with soft-porn – ie. The Swimsuit Issue!

    I commend you for doing what you did for your 11 year old; I am concerned about the future for my 7 year old boy and any other young people that have to deal with the ease of filth that’s out there.

    The question is, will taking the filth away be enough or will it intrigue your son more to explore at school, with his buddies who’s parents either don’t care or who have the same issues…?

    People who think it’s no big deal either are not being honest with themselves, have addiction issues themselves, or don’t understand the power addiction can have on the heart and mind of individuals.

  14. Dave,

    First, I am not a parent. My wife and I are right on the cusp of it, and as I am in my early 30s I have quite a few friends who are already parents to multiple kids. That being said–I think a mash-up of what some others have said might be food for thought:

    Skipping the obvious “rights of a child” discussion that all parents use whenever they want to get their way, the subscription was something that you helped him get, and so it was “his” to a degree. Once you saw it, and realized that you didn’t want him to have unfettered access to it or maybe even see it at all, you were faced with a ‘teachable’ moment. Could it have been possible to talk with him, qualify his viewing of the issue by saying “I am not going to let you keep this, because…(exploits women, pornographic, fill in the blank) but it is yours and so we are going to sit down and look at one time together, and I will explain to you what about these pictures I like, and what I don’t like.” I too have had the SI swimsuit issue, both as a teenager and in my 20s, and although many of the pictures ARE extremely explicit, there used to be some very artful amazing pictures in it as well. Explaining to your son the difference, and having that conversation about linking respect for women to why ogling these pictures goes against that idea was the opportunity. I would dare say it isn’t too late to still do it at this point.

    I remember being about 11 and watching some movie with my dad when a sex scene came on, I felt awkward and I remember him saying to me that he would rather that I watch scenes with sex or naked people in them than the violence and war movies that are also so prevalent and targeted at boys that age.

    Think it would be possible to sit down with him one time and go through the magazine? You might discover that he has already seen it at a friends and that by looking at it you will find that your values and beliefs have influenced him quite a bit, as he may be able to tell you which pictures are too risque without you saying a thing. In the end, who know, maybe when you give him the choice he might even decide that it isn’t a magazine he wants to keep because of it’s exploitative nature. (We can dream right?)

  15. Dave,

    Bravo, bravo! Can you hear my applause? What you did was right on so many levels. At 11, your son is not developmentally prepared for the SI Swimsuit Edition. I have to agree that it is soft porn and it has no place in the life of an 11 yr old, for all of the reason you outlined. I did not give the edition to my 15 yr. old son two years ago for the very same reason. Parents are safe to protect kids from elements that they are not yet prepared for. We live in an oversexualized society as it is, we don’t have to join in with it and relinquish parental concern.

    I’d say as a parent, you are doing your J.O.B. Thanks for having those important conversations with him about your expectations and how you want him to view women. Your son may feel let down by the fact that you kept the magazine from him, but I’ve a feeling he’d be even more let down by you in the long run if you didn’t care for him in the way you do.

    As parents, we can’t control what our kids do when not in our sight. But, we can certainly let them know what we expect and our rationale behind it.

    Carry on!

    Wendy @Kidlutions

  16. This isn’t about the magazine, it’s about fatherhood and making a statement to your growing son. If you were offended by it, it’s your job to say so and say why. When he and his friends are pawing through the pages elsewhere, I hope your son says, “My dad thinks it’s stupid.” And I hope he says it with pride.

  17. It’s interesting, how we decide where to draw the lines….or if we draw lines as parents. Personally I applaud your reasoning, even if I’m a believer in children’s right to personal property. Could this have been addressed before taking a subscription to the magazine? Probably. If a child is interested in seeing it, might taking it away make it more desirable? Probably. But ultimately it’s about a bigger picture of how a child sees his role models behave in regards to women- if women are respected and the ways they are appreciated (ie. not only for looks). Banning a swimsuit issue can either reinforce what the child is seeing in life (making the banning of the magazine probably unnecessary) or it can be just one more mixed message about women and sexuality. But as parents, we need to feel our way through these things individually- getting really clear on aligning what we stand for with our actions- both personal and parental.

  18. Hi Dave- I just wanted to say that you were upholding the responsibility of your job as father by throwing the magazine away. You’re dad, you know best. To the people who are criticizing that keeping the magazine would have served as a lesson on sexuality or objectification, I feel uncertain about this. I feel that when kids are younger, you really have to work on teaching them the fundamentals of respect. Keeping the magazine around upon his first exposure to such material with you (especially since it’s primary purpose is to elicit a male’s sexual gaze – and little else) would imply that you somehow approve of it to some degree (I mean, after all, you’re KEEPING it and NOT throwing it away, so it must have SOME value). As his father, what you do is just as important as what you say (probably more so). It shows that you do not tolerate it and it sets the tone for his future encounters with such material. I don’t doubt that it’s the last nude mag he’ll ever see in his lifetime, but he knows that it is fundamentally wrong. When I see magazines like this, I know it is fundamentally wrong because my parents never allowed stuff like that in our house. If they had left stuff like that lying around (or left it to my discretion), I’m certain I’d feel differently about it. Also it’s fine that you threw it out bc you can save those conversations about objectification of women for a little later – at a time when he has already fully learned to respect women, when he’s maybe mature enough to understand the more complex concept of objectification, and when he is more likely to really be actively pursuing such material (let’s not jump the gun and expose him to stuff he rarely sees and may not be fully interested in yet). Also, if you have a daughter in the house, too, it’s really important that she not be exposed to this type of material either. I don’t have to tell you about the confusion/mixed messages material like this causes young girls. It’s confusing to girls when a father implicitly condones sexualization of women (by the mere possession of such magazine), but then father tries to convey that it’s “what’s on the inside that matters” to the daughter. It’s a total paradox. And yes, I agree, it’s creepy when older men are starting at barely legal girls. Gross. Lastly, I’m sure at least some of your male readers were drawn into reading this bc of the pic – so it’s fine to use it. lol. From my humble third party view, I think you are doing great! I honestly wish there were more enlightened, sensitive, and devoted fathers out there like you. Thank you for this blog – hopefully you’ll rub off on some of your readers (especially the males!). Best of luck and best wishes.

  19. I disagree with the whole ‘it’s his property, you had no right’ concept. My teens have DS’s and other items that have been purchased for them, we consider them to belong to the kids. But if at any time I feel that they should not have them- they are using them inappropriately, or they haven’t earned screentime- then I have no qualms about taking them away. They are still my children, and it is still my responsibility to teach them the right way to go in this world. At best their argument is ‘you could have said ahead of time that he doesn’t get the swimsuit edition.’ I’d go along with that.

  20. You did the right thing. I never really thought about sports illustrated until the other day. I was shopping in the local grocery store and was shocked to see a huge display of sports illustrated. It consisted of 4-5 tables at different heights with upright magazines such that kids of all ages could see them, open them.. etc. The display was positioned next to a kids area. I felt sick to my stomach. These images are not allowed at work – why are they so prominently displayed at the H.E.B. grocery store? What if there was a large display in the grocery store showing many images (some at the eye level of a 2 year old) of a teenager with no pubic hair and a thin line over his penis? People would wake up.

    You’re son is lucky to have a dad that thinks of long term consequences and puts effort into guiding him to adulthood.

  21. With all due respect… I applaud your intentions. You are a father who wants to protect your son, and I admire that. The problem I think is that we believe we are helping kids by shielding them from things like this. I believe (and for the demographics, yes, I’m a father x3) that it is better to give them guidance and advice rather than censorship. By removing the magazine, you have probably increased his curiosity, and elevated the magazine to a “naughty” level.

    My job for the last 20 some odd years is a police officer. I have dealt with a lot of what I would call perverts or sexual deviants. Most of them grew up in households that were very strict, religious and a sheltered environment. (you’d be surprised at how often that is a common denominator in those cases)

    On the flip side, I know several fathers who looked at nudity and artistic nudity as “no big deal”, and it seemed to work out fine with their kids. When we treat nudity (or semi-nudity in this case) as art… and we remove the “naughty aspect” it becomes less interesting to kids.

    Just my two cents worth, but I think too often we label things like Sports Illustrated as pornography… when it clearly is not. Pornography is a whole different area and is demeaning and damaging… but I don’t think what SI puts in their magazine can fairly be called pornography.

    • Sorry, but men are not purchasing this magazine for the fashion. They buy it to look at all but NAKED girls. If it’s for the purpose of sexual arousal, it’s pornography. I had a male friend tell me it was the same thing as my flower and gardening catalogs. When I take up masturbating to Better Homes and Gardens magazines, I’ll gladly accept that comparison. I believe it was last year that a man was arrested in a Walmart for masturbating to the swimsuit issue, then wiping himself off with a stuffed animal in the toy department.

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    • Thank You!
      It restores my faith to see that there are actually men out there who see this garbage for what it is. it sickens me every time I walk into a grocery store, gas station, convenience store, etc. and have bare ****** shoved in my face. If men feel the need to drool over pics of mostly naked girls, who are probably younger than their daughters, it’s their “problem”. Those of us who don’t choose to see it, should NOT have it forced on us! I noticed that magazines like Cosmo are covered a lot of times. Why is S.I allowed to plaster photo’s of these “girls” hanging their junk out all over the place, where children see it?! This trash is also part of the reason that my three beautiful daughters are insecure about their bodies! I really hope my husband isn’t one of the old guys I see passing around the latest issue at work, hiding in a corner drooling, or huddled up around it giggling like a bunch of horny teenagers who managed to get hold of daddy’s hustler. I dread February. What really bothers me is that I’m ridiculed for being bothered by it. No, I am not “insecure” about my body. I’m petite, and very fit. I just don’t feel the need to take my clothes off and rub it on people’s noses. I suppose if being masturbation material is the life goal for these girls, fine. Go give lap dances in some sleazy club so the rest of us with some self respect don’t have to have your butts in our kid’s faces while we are trying to shop! Disgusting.