My 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?