BreakPoint: ‘SI’ Swimsuit Edit Isn’t Stimulating
On the “Lutheran Satire” YouTube channel, there is a video called “A Christian and a Feminist Almost Agree on Things”. In it, two sock puppets discuss the cultural breakdown of sexuality and marriage and how pornography afflicts them.
“Pornography harms women,” says the feminist puppet.
“I totally agree,” said the Christian puppet. “Pornography demeans women, and it also corrupts men by making them think of women as sex objects.”
“Therefore,” interrupts the feminist puppet, “women should empower themselves by taking control of the porn industry and producing their own sexually explicit material.”
To which the Christian puppet responds: “That’s not the solution I had in mind.”
Pornography and sexually suggestive material of any kind objectify women, teaching consumers that female bodies are things to ogle, covet, rather than people to love and value.
These Lutheran puppets came to mind last week after Sports Illustrated announced the covers for its annual swimsuit issue. Of course, the swimwear edition has never had any interest other than to objectify women to the publication’s predominantly male readership. It has nothing to do with sports. It has nothing to do with even swimwear marketing.
She is, instead, for decades the most visible example of everything Christians and feminists and other protectors of women have decried about our objectifying culture: selling skin, airbrushed and impossible beauty standards, sexual provocation, etc., etc., etc.
This year’s cover model does not represent the typical, unattainable standards of thinness that porn and Photoshop have imposed on women. However, she’s still posed provocatively in a barely-there swimsuit, as objectified as any other cover model has ever been.
There seems to be some confusion. The issue here isn’t that all women need to be objectified about their bodies. It’s that no one should be objectified at all. Valuing a human being created in the image of God by changing the standards of outward appearance is always wrong. But we don’t atone for a sin by committing it against everyone.
Now, I know it seems a little strange in 2022 to oppose swimsuit covers, but at the very heart of our culture’s mildly suggestive material is a lie that has long consumed our culture, the same one that’s at the heart of our culture. heart of the still accessible and increasingly dark world of online pornography. This lie is that people are things to be used and therefore can be extracted from their bodies for our gratification or tickle.
This lie can never be made true, even when people consent to it. As Christine Emba recently pointed out in The Washington Post, it is possible for a woman to objectify herself, and therefore to consent to things that are actually terrible for her. Consent, Emba concludes, is not a sufficient sexual ethic on its own. We must speak of a much more important value: love, which she defines, inspired by Saint Thomas Aquinas, as “desiring the good of the other”.
There is no sense in which reducing a woman to her body and exposing her to millions of people is to do her any good. No person – male or female – is simply a body. Christians have always insisted and must continue to insist against things like prostitution, polygamy, slavery and pornography. Because the human being is the bearer of the image of God, he must always be taken seriously, body and soul.
If there is a problem with the display of scantily clad women as objects for the eager eyes of sports fans – and there is – if we recognize the connection this ritual has to much darker corners of our culture, especially online – and it does – the answer is stop. Of course, the answer is no longer the same. We must treat women as whole persons.
From BreakPoint, May 24, 2022; reproduced with permission from the Colson Center, breakpoint.org.