Jeneé Osterheldt

I’m a feminist. Don’t police me or Sports Illustrated’s nude photos for #MeToo

The 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is called “In Her Own Words” and it’s meant to smash stigma. It’s the first time the Swimsuit Issue will feature a nude spread shot by a female photographer, Taylor Ballantyne, and an all-women crew.
The 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is called “In Her Own Words” and it’s meant to smash stigma. It’s the first time the Swimsuit Issue will feature a nude spread shot by a female photographer, Taylor Ballantyne, and an all-women crew. Twitter

Please, ladies, stop with the pearl-clutching over Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s #MeToo spread.

Every year Sports Illustrated teases its annual special edition, often dismissed as soft porn and nicknamed the sexploitation issue. And folks get big mad and talk about family values and the safety of women.

A few days ago, photos of this year’s issue, due out this week, were released. Nude models used their bodies as a canvas for words that expressed how they see themselves. Called “In Her Own Words,” it’s meant to smash stigma. Some just see naked women. The models see themselves as more.

“I am appalled at the #metoo photos you just released,” tweeted Kaya Jones. “As an entertainer who was abused I feel disgusted that you show naked women in your magazine and claim you support women when you are completely objectifying women. More of what we DO NOT need!”

This coming from a woman who supports a vulva-grabbing president. Seeing a woman’s body is more appalling than violating her body? OK.

Gabriella Hart, a Kansas City model, did a shoot for domestic violence shelter Hope House where she had positive affirmations written along her arms.

“Although my body was mostly covered, I felt that the words almost served as an armor, bolstering my confidence and telling my truth,” she told me. “I have also done runway for an intimate apparel line as well as posed nude on separate occasions and felt empowered by it all. The female form is beautiful. I see these photos and I see women in their most authentic form. I don’t think sexiness is anti-feminist. If you think that the male gaze necessarily controls how a woman should be allowed to present herself, then you are a part of the problem.”

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“I have also done runway for an intimate apparel line as well as posed nude on separate occasions and felt empowered by it all. The female form is beautiful,” said Gabriella Hart, a Kansas City model. Submitted

I’m a loud advocate of women’s rights. I believe in our humanity and equity. I support #MeToo, and how the movement bolsters survivors of sexual assault and harassment. And I, like 16 million other women, am among Sports Illustrated’s readers.

But feminism and a love for swimwear, fashion and models are not mutually exclusive. Is the fashion industry riddled with sexism and racism? Yes. Are women too often reduced to their body parts? Yes.

We have to call out the issues, just like we call out the body-shaming and unrealistic beauty standards. But if you care about the style of your hair, make-up and clothes, you participate in fashion culture. Magazines, clothing and beauty brands should be more active in providing a platform.

So I don’t understand the argument that because Sports Illustrated features women in bikinis that these women can’t support #MeToo.

Actress Alyssa Milano got an idea from a friend of a friend on Facebook to elevate the Harvey Weinstein conversation. She took the idea to Twitter, posting: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." T

“It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” editor MJ Day told Vanity Fair. “That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit Issue. You have Harvard graduates, you have billion-dollar moguls, you have philanthropists, you have teachers, you have mothers — you have a full range of women represented in the alumnus of this magazine, and not one of them failed because they wore a bikini.”

Day and her team aren’t new to making statements. Last year, the swimsuit issue featured an image of Nina Agdal wearing a shirt that said, “A woman does not have to be modest in order to be respected.”

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman also posed for Sports Illustrated last year. Topless. This is the same Aly Raisman who is a #MeToo hero and survivor who courageously spoke out against her abuser, Larry Nassar, now sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

Kate Upton, a Sports Illustrated swim fave, just shared her own #MeToo story about Guess co-founder Paul Marciano. This year marks the first time the Swimsuit Issue will feature a nude shoot by a female photographer, Taylor Ballantyne, and an all-women crew.

You can love your body, be in Sports Illustrated and be a feminist badass.

Model Robyn Lawley has words like “Mother,” “Human,” “Creative” and “Progressive” on her body.

“My daughter is growing up in this world right now and I want her to love who she is because it is so important,” Robyn told Sports Illustrated. “If she ever came to me and said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable in my body,’ I don’t know what I would do. I’d die on the inside. We are women and we are human. We have stretch marks. We have rolls. We have cellulite. That’s all part of our bodies. We become so obsessed with our exterior message; we give no thoughts to what’s in our heads. I just want all those girls out there to know they are so beautiful and so special.”

Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault doesn’t believe women speaking their truth, naked or clothed, is contradictory to the movement.

“MOCSA believes that it is important to respect individuals’ body autonomy and personal choice,” said Marie Alcocer, director of advocacy. “Sexual violence is never the result of a victim’s actions or choices regardless of what they are. Sexual violence is about power and control and the perpetrator’s choice to violate someone’s boundaries and body autonomy.”

The real danger is not this nude photo shoot but the rules of what it means to be a lady, says Whitney Manney, a Kansas City fashion designer.

“Why do we have to ignore these things about ourselves that are dope?” she asks. “We have bodies and we should be able to embrace and love them for what they are and be accepted. Women have been taught to hide themselves. They have been taught that a proper woman covers up. They have been taught that if you respect yourself you cover up. But who determined that? A man? Why would another woman bash us or our art for loving ourselves? Isn’t that the point of feminism?”

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The real danger is not this nude photo shoot but the rules of what it means to be a lady, says Whitney Manney, a Kansas City fashion designer. Submitted

Being a woman is hard enough. It’s even harder if you are a woman of color or a queer woman, or a disabled or immigrant or poor woman. Sexism is real. Intersectional feminism is essential. You can march in a SlutWalk half-naked and be just as much a feminist as Gloria Steinem.

So if you want to fight against inequity, against sexual violence, against racism and sexism as women, you can’t do that and police womanhood, too. That’s patriarchy, illustrated.

Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnsit, @jeneeinkc

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