See why some are calling Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue the “Sexploitation Issue”

On Saturday, Sports Illustrated with unveil the new edition of its annual swimsuit issue. And it's not exactly family-friendly, or kind to women.
Feb 12, 2016

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  • The upcoming Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has caused a bit of a stir recently, with some critics saying that it sexually exploits women in the magazine.

  • This critique comes from the National Center of Sexual Exploitation, which has since dubbed the swimsuit issue as the "Sexploitation Issue" in a recently released statement.

  • In fact, the NCSE is hoping the retailers and supermarkets will remove the issue from its shelves before it hits stores later this month.

  • "Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue should be renamed the Sexploitation Issue," Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of the NCSE, said in the release. "This magazine has a long history of sexually objectifying women for sport, and any store that displays SI's February issue is sending the message that it agrees women's bodies are for public consumption."

  • But it's not just the magazine that Hawkins has had qualms with. The issue's reveal will be broadcast live on TNT on Feb. 13 — in accordance with the NBA All-Star Game. Because of this, Hawkins said that TNT and any other sports media that cover the event are furthering the issue of sexual exploitation in the media.

  • This reveal comes at what's been an already hectic last few months for the sexual portrayal of women in sports. Hawkins said there's been a number of stories recently about sex trafficking at the Super Bowl, a sign that sexual exploitation is a rapidly occurring issue in America today. This magazine reveal only furthers that claim, she says.

  • "Just last week there was a torrent of media about the tragedy of sex trafficking at the Super Bowl, and now Sports Illustrated, a prominent sports news source, is promoting the commodification of women's bodies as sexual objects for personal entertainment," Hawkins said in the release. "A publication that denigrates women by portraying them as ornamental objects for sexual pleasure is a publication that perpetuates a toxic culture of sexual exploitation and inequality."

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  • The organization is asking "concerned citizens" to contact their local WalMarts, Barnes & Nobles and Kroger shops to ask them to remove the issue.

  • This is far from the first time that the Sports Illustrated magazine has troubled American families. Last year, supermarket chain Safeway received 31,000 complaints over the magazine's cover, mainly because the cover showed part of cover star Hannah Davis' pubic bone, Breitbart reported.

  • Safeway eventually agreed to place the magazine "in its own shipping display, which covers the bottom two thirds of the magazine," Safeway said.

  • It's not exactly new news that Sports Illustrated has a sexual cover or has sexual content. It's mainly the reason why the magazine brings in close to $1 billion every year and generates close to 7 percent of Sports Illustrated's total revenue.

  • But what also makes this magazine successful is that it comes at a time when sexual content is almost in abundance. As I wrote back in 2015, celebrity Kim Kardashian showed her entire body inside Paper magazine, and even mooned the world on the cover. She said this was a way to "break the Internet" — that is to say, get a big social media reaction — since it was social media that made her famous.

  • Similarly, there were many complaints over Maroon 5's music video in 2014 for the song "Animals" because it displayed sexual violence, particularly through a couple who constantly stalked each other. The lead character in the video was a butcher who had sexual desire to be with a female customer. This video came out around the same time that NFL star Ray Rice allegedly attacked his wife and sexual assault and violence was a hot-button issue, creating even more controversy.

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  • And even once family-friendly entertainment has become more sexual. When the new "The Muppets" show debuted in fall 2015, critics pointed out how the show relied on sexual humor and scenarios for laughs, rather than witty comedy and culture-laden commentary.

  • But these types of media aren't what families want. In fact, about 1 in 4 American families cited sexual permissiveness in society as one of the growing problems in American culture, according to the American Family Survey. It's viewed as a bigger problem than the decline in religion and even crime or threat to personal safety.

  • Even from a marketing standpoint, sexual content has proven not to be the golden nugget in advertising as the phrase "sex sells" has made it out to be. A 2014 study from the academic journal Psychological Bulletin found that television commercials with sex and violence don't sell as well as ones with "neutral themes," Bloomberg reported.

  • That's because sexual content and violence tend to take the viewer's mind off of the actual item that's advertised, making them less interested in buying that product.

  • This study, which analyzed 53 different experiments, also found that sexual advertisements can not only take viewers' minds off a brand, but damage the brand altogether. People tend to view sexual content in a more negative light, the study said, which could have long-term effects on magazines like Sports Illustrated.

  • "Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media," Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at the Ohio State University, told Bloomberg.

  • So maybe a sexual issue of Sports Illustrated isn't a good idea after all, especially since Sports Illustrated, like many other print platforms, has been on the decline. The circulation numbers dropped from 3,065,507 in 2013 to 3,043,698 in 2014 — a seemingly small yet significant drop.

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  • "It never helps to have violence and sex in commercials," Bushman said. "It either hurts, or has no effect at all."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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