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My question about Hannah Davis’s “Swimsuit” shot: Why did they bother with a swimsuit?

February 11, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

Censored: Producers likely deemed the photo too risque to reveal the full image on the morning program

Covered up on the “Today” show–but not on newsstands

Or at least that cover is so obviously controversial that when Davis appeared on the Today show to plug it, the producers photo-shopped a giant red ribbon across the bottom third of her torso. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation wrote a letter to such chains as Walmart, CVS, 7-Eleven, and Costco asking them to display the issue with the cover partially obscured, as they typically do with skin mags.

But the issue here isn’t skin per se, or even porn. Since time began men have enjoyed looking at lovely ladies, or pictures of lovely ladies, wearing as little clothing as acceptable under the circumstances. Yes, sex sells—and few people bother to pretend that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is actually about the latest styles in beachwear. And while pornography, whether hardcore or soft-core, may not be morally uplifting, it’s been around since our caveman ancestors carved those curvy “Venuses” with their flintstones.

The issue is really: What sort of standards of public decorum, if any, do we have nowadays? No one will be forced to buy, or even look inside that swimsuit issue, but that cover will be—and already has been, on the Internet–everywhere. It might as well be on highway billboards as well. And few seem to mind. You have to ask, then: If it’s okay for Davis to display in public nearly everything she’s got, why bother with a swimsuit at all? Why not just slap a naked lady onto the cover of Sports Illustrated?

The whole idea behind a swimsuit to begin with is that in public places, such as beaches or pools, people are expected to comply with minimal standards of modesty. A swimsuit has a social function, and its size and design tell you something about social standards and expectations. Our great-great grandmothers swam in bloomers, and many Muslim women today run into the waves fully clothed and veiled. Over the years in the West, swimsuits have become smaller and smaller, but the convention of minimal modesty has remained intact.

Now, though, with the Sports Illustrated cover right out there so that even the tiniest toddlers can gape at Davis revealing most of what used to be called a woman’s “private parts,” you have to ask what’s left of that bare (so to speak) minimum of public decorum that a swimsuit is supposed to represent. And what that says about our society.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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