How the SI Swimsuit Edition Made Me Wiser

I am not a Sports Illustrated subscriber. But, a few weeks ago, the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition arrived in my mailbox. A beautiful, scantily lady adorned the front of the magazine. Part of me wishes I could say that I immediately tossed it into the recycle bin and went on my merry way. But, that isn’t what happened. I stared at the cover for a few seconds—maybe longer. But, I wasn’t really entranced with the cover photo. No. I was in a battle in my mind. Honestly, I was torn. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to open it and scan through the photos. I wanted those sexy photos to feed that lustful part of me. But, there was another voice. It waited for me to answer a single question,  “What does looking mean to you?” There was my dilemma. Which voice do I heed? So, for a few seconds, I just stared at the cover. Uncertain.

The first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue was produced by Sports Illustrated in 1964—the year before I was born. The picture that you see here is the cover of that year’s edition. Bikinis have come a long way since then. Or, maybe it is fairer to say that they have gone a long way in fifty years.

Ten years ago, SI’s  swimsuit issue generated $35 million dollars in advertising revenue. Not surprisingly, today it is a billion dollar enterprise. The swimsuit issue sells more than one million copies at newsstands alone. I hope you find this background information interesting.

But, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue isn’t really the point of this post—at least not mostly. This post is about me and you and how we decide what happens in a few seconds.<

I learned from my friend and mentor, Kary Oberbrunner, that the word “decide” is derived from the Latin word “decidere”—originally meaning  “to cut off”. In other words, when you decide to do something you cut off the other options.

In just a few seconds (probably less than 20) of staring at the photo of the woman that I now know is model Hannah Davis (girlfriend to Derek Jeter), I had to decide which voice to cut off.

It is amazing how fast your brain processes information. Only in retrospect, however, did I realize four critical decisions that I made in that twenty second period that ultimately made me wiser.

Decision #1: Do I believe that there is anything inherently wrong with a guy (or woman I guess) looking at women in very revealing bikinis?

My Answer: No

Well, I actually do not think that there anything inherently wrong with looking. I will admit that these bikinis actually show more than they cover. A barely noticeable piece of fabric or other object carefully obstructs a fraction of a woman’s breast, buttocks, or genitalia. Those coming from a more conservative perspective than me may argue that it should in fact be considered pornographic. I wouldn’t seriously argue with them about that. They have a point.

But, what I recognize is that we live in a culture that continues to redefine what is acceptable. And, when it comes to lust the trend always moves towards feeding the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. That is the work of sin. And, there is no stopping that until Christ’s return.

So, for me to say that looking at the magazine that is sitting on every newsstand is wrong is to say that most Rated R movies and many of the popular TV shows are inherently wrong to watch. I mean look at the hugely popular show “Scandal”. The themes of that show fall WAY contrary to a good wholesome message. But, people across the socially conservative to liberal continuum love it.<

I don’t see how you can see Scandal as acceptable and the Swimsuit issue as unacceptable.

I think the issue has more to do with individual motivation than general edict. More on that point shortly.

Decision #2: Is the Swimsuit issue really glorified and socially-acceptable pornography?

My Answer: Weak No

The definition of pornography “is the portrayal of subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal.”

I grew up in a very conservative Christian home. I am a preacher’s kid. By and large, I walked a pretty straight and narrow line that was expected of me. But, here is something that I have never written anywhere before. When I was a teenager, I had a neighbor whose home had a stash of pornography magazines that if my memory serves me correctly included Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler. I had never seen these magazines before. I felt like it was very wrong looking through them. But, I enjoyed them. And, whenever the infrequent opportunity rose, I would go back and look again.

I am not proud of this. But, it happened. In time, I felt so guilty that I repented and stopped. But, something about that experience makes me skittish about porn.

But, if I ask myself whether the Swimsuit issue is developed for the express purpose of sexual arousal. I do not necessarily believe it is—though obviously it can be sexually arousing. And, in fact, the reason that we males enjoy it so much is because it causes dopamine to be released in our brains just like sexual arousal does. So, it’s a debatable point.

In the super sexualized American culture, I am not convinced that I can justifiably call it pornography in general. But, it can definitely be pornographic for an individual that experiences sexual arousal from it. And, I absolutely believe that for these people and maybe many others it can be a slippery slope. For an individual experiencing sexual arousal from the Swimsuit Edition, you are on dangerous ground. Your body will soon demand more satisfaction than this magazine will give it. You will then find yourself searching for something more erotic.

The “anonymity” of the Internet has made that slope excessively steep. Some data show that more than two-thirds (68%) of teens will view pornography online. Some sources report 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites.

If you have a porn addiction there is proven help available to you. You can click HERE to learn more.

Just this week, I was listening to a Michael Hyatt’s podcast where he told of an incident where he personally had to fire a pastor who could not stop viewing pornography on the job even after being warned. Such is the power of this addiction. But, it usually starts with something more innocent. Could the Swimsuit Edition be someone’s gateway to a porn addiction? I’m sure it has been.

Note to dads who have pornography at the home: You should get rid of the pornography. But, if you choose to keep it, make sure you lock them away where your teenage son cannot get them. He probably already knows about your stash.

Decision #3: Does it cast women as sex objects? My Answer: Philosophically, Yes.

Personally, I do feel as if this objectifies women as fantasy projections of men. So, philosophically at least, it seems to me as if it should be demeaning to women. Lest you think I am just being too prudish, check out this National Geographic News article showing clinical evidence of this phenomenon using brain imaging technology.

I guess the problem, however, is that many women do not seem to feel demeaned by it. And, if in general women aren’t offended, is there really an offense? I guess that is another philosophical debate.

But, I do think that it is part of a larger cultural problem that allows men to think of women as objects to be taken advantage of against their will, ignored when they are inconvenient, and discarded when they are no longer useful. Maybe I am being a little melodramatic. Maybe. But, the Sports Illustrated images are just one set of sexualized images that get put before us every day. Every day, most of us are exposed to dozens (maybe more) of  sexualized scenes on TV and online. Do we really think that this has no impact on the way men and women view themselves and each other?

Decision #4: Would I look through this magazine in my wife’s presence? My Answer: NO NO NO

I polled ten women (most of them wives on Facebook to gauge whether or not they would have a problem with their man looking through the Swimsuit edition. The results were mixed. But, to my surprise, 6 of 10 women had no problem with it. Among those who didn’t mind, the reasons ranged from self-confidence that she had more to offer her man than any picture to feeling that it has nothing to do with the husband-wife relationship. I appreciated these women’s candor.

But, I must say that I was surprised. I think I’m biased because I was pretty sure that my wife would be very offended. So, I did what any good researcher would do. I asked my wife. I was right. She echoed the remarks that were made by several of the four ladies who dissented on Facebook. It is about my motive. Why would I want to allow these images in my mind? And, does it somehow suggest that she is not enough for me.

Anything that I am not willing to do in the presence of my wife, sends up an immediate red flag for me. And, as I stared at that Swimsuit cover that red flag just kept waving nonstop.

In less than 20 seconds all of this (and probably more) raced through my mind. Do I open it or not?

In the end, I just could not ignore the red flags. I could not disrespect my wife—even though she would not have even known. I tossed the magazine in the recycling bin, spun on my heels, and headed out.

But, in retrospect, I think these four decision criteria is a useful filter in many of the big and small decisions that we make. Honestly, ask yourself these four questions when you face your test:

  • Is this inherently wrong?
  • Is this a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Does it create a moral dilemma?
  • Would this disrespect or disappoint someone who is important to me?

This simple filter will show you the red flags that help you avoid some costly mistakes. If you can give the right answer for these four questions you probably are making a wise decision.

Are there other decision criteria that should be added?

Look forward to hearing other folk’s thoughts about the SI Swimsuit issue too.