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What should I say to my kids about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue?
Every year, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue generates sales with what is essentially soft-core porn. The 2017 edition takes a slightly new tack by featuring Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. The inclusion of the athletes is intended to symbolize "all that is beautiful and strong and inspiring in women today," according to the magazine's editor. Given that the rest of the magazine follows the old format (models in revealing bathing suits posing provocatively) and the magazine's website is more of the same, Sports Illustrated isn't off the hook for promoting women as sexual objects. It does, however, give you something to focus on when you discuss the issue with your kids. You can also feel free to express your displeasure at companies' practices easily, publicly, and strenuously, through Facebook, Twitter, change.org, and other social media.
Meanwhile, depending on your kids' ages, there are lots of ways to help them view media critically. Here are some ideas to start the conversation:
Change the subject and stress what bodies can do vs. how they look. Little kids don't understand the concept of "sex sells" yet. Use the opportunity to discuss one of the gymnasts or another female athlete you admire. Say, "I wish Sports Illustrated had Mia Hamm on the cover. She was one of my favorite soccer players. Let me tell you about her."
Elementary school-age kids
Make body-positive statements; reinforce your values. Kids this age are getting a clue about sex -- and they're affected by media images that represent a physical ideal. They also can understand that magazines use attention-getting images to generate sales. However, young kids may not be able to grasp idea that the magazine sends mixed messages. So choose one or two positive key messages and express them in clear language. Say, "I'm proud of our gymnasts who worked so hard to achieve their medals. To me, the real value of a person's body is in what it can do, not what it looks like." If pressed, you can say, "I wish magazines wouldn't use sexy photos of women to get people to buy products."
Help them view media critically; discuss your family's values. Middle school-age kids can certainly understand sex, and both genders may be interested in the swimsuit issue for different reasons. But both boys and girls need to hear similar messages. Try, "Yes, the models are beautiful, but remember it's what's inside that counts." Older kids can handle the nuance in this situation. Ask, "Do you agree that the inclusion of Simone Biles and Aly Raisman is a celebration of strength and beauty?" And, "No real person really looks that way. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work -- diets, camera angles, and Photoshop -- that goes into producing these images." Show examples of before-and-after Photoshop pictures to reinforce this message. Encourage both boys and girls to value themselves and others for their abilities, not their physical attractiveness.