Yes, modeling is a real job—an actual profession that takes hard work and real skill. Yes, it's a problematic industry that often fosters sexism, racism, and body issues. But if we're going to punch it, let's punch at the industry itself, and not the models doing their jobs.
If you haven't seen the headlines, 24-year-old model Hannah Davis has landed the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover. The image has courted controversy due to Davis's low-slung bikini bottoms, which some media outlets and bloggers are saying hang much too low, verging on the pornographic.
Here is the image:
On Today, producers covered her bikini region on the image with a red ribbon because it was deemed too risqué for morning show audiences:
And Davis has done the rounds "defending" the image as not that big of a deal, the Washington Post reports.
"I think you're making it look a lot naughtier than it really is, to be honest," Davis told Matt Lauer. "To be honest, I think SI always tries to do something a little different every year, and I think this year, it's the year of the torso."
The response to that from bloggers and other media outlets was: Haha, torso. Right!
Cindy Boren at the Washington Post wrote:
Despite glaring evidence to the contrary on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, 2015 is the year of the torso.
Jenice Armstrong at Philly.com wrote:
Er sweetie. If you think it's your torso that people are talking about, then you need an anatomy lesson.
Get it? There's no way Davis is savvy enough to redirect the conversation; she's just stupid.
Business Insider deems this cover possibly the most scandalous yet, including admonishments from some Twitterers for Davis to "cover her vagina":
Do you see her vagina? But my issue with some of this criticism is one, that it's not really pointed at Sports Illustrated, who does this every year without fail, on purpose, be it with asses or Barbie or boobs. Two, it's that this all seems like low-hanging fruit, pun intended. For one, this cover has happened before plenty over the years, as recently as 2009, US Weekly noted, when Bar Rafaeli yanked down similarly:
Funny or Die's Matt Klinman took this pointed critique one step further by publishing a faux interview with Davis herself examining how she pulled off the lucrative cover win:
Congrats on making the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue! How did you do it?
Thanks so much! This is very exciting. I think the main reason I got the cover is because in my photo I made it look like I'm about to show you my pussy. By making it look like I'm about to show you my pussy, I thought that would get people thinking about having sex with me and that's a sure fire way to a successful swimsuit photo. I thought about doing something else like squishing my boobs in a hot way or making you look at my ass, but then I decided that to win this year I should make it look like I am about to show you my pussy. You can never be sure if that is going to work but I thought it was a good shot because I'm a professional.
How did you make it look like you were about to show us your pussy?
My biggest trick is to pull down the bottom part of my bathing suit. Because my pussy is in there, if I just pull it down a little bit I can trick your mind into thinking I'm about to show you my pussy. It's like an optical illusion but I'm the one doing it instead of a hologram, like normal. After that it's just all about making my face look like I'm thinking I'm about to show you my pussy. That's the hardest part because I have to sorta be lying, since I'm not really about to show you my pussy, but I'm pretty good at it now because I'm a professional.
I thought it was pretty funny at first, because it deconstructs what's actually happening in lots of titillating images, which, when broken down, sounds pretty absurd. Duck face, sexy pose, oops, you caught me sexy! and so much of the heavily sexualized imagery we see is utterly absurd. It is quite literally just the mere suggestion of sex and some of the contortions are so basic, so horndoggy, and so stupidly effective. We're animals. Really. We are.
But then, as the fake Q&A goes on, it's apparent that it's also mocking Davis's belief in her professionalism and how clever she thinks she is for almost showing her pussy, and the repetition begins to feel weirdly sexist, like what is actually being poked at here is Hannah Davis thinking she did something so great, when really what she did was so so stupid, and not only that, that she actually thinks it's professional or smart. By the end I just started to feel really bad.
How did you decide to look like you were about to show us your pussy instead of, say, squishing your boobs in a hot way?
That's a good question. It was tough, especially after seeing Kate [Upton] win two years ago for squishing her boobs in a hot way, I could see why a lot of models would want to do that. But I'm also clever and I knew that usually you don't want to do what they did the year before. But last year they won the cover by being three girls touching each others' butts, and I was just one person so I didn't have to worry about copying them. So then the next logical thing was to skip a year and just to not do what they did two years before. Turns out I was right. In fact you have to go all the way back to 2009 to see a girl who looks like she is about to show you her pussy. So it felt like something fresh I could do, I'm a professional.
But You Look Even More Like You Are About To Show Your Pussy Then Bar Rafaeli Did in 2009.
Thanks for noticing. Yeah, I thought that because she only looked like she was about to show you her pussy with one hand, if I did it with two hands everyone would go like "whoa, is she really about to show me her pussy?" It's just something that hadn't been done before. I think that's what put me over the edge. I'm a professional.
So yeah, anyway, she's a professional, har. Again, I think Klinman makes a funny point about the issue's existence at all; that the magazine tries to even pretend it is doing anything other than peddling soft-core, that these marginally more sexualized moves make all the difference. But Klinman's piece straddles the line between mocking the magazine and the industry it exists in, and poking at the models themselves by crediting them, jokingly, with an agency they actually don't possess in this instance—their choice is merely to participate or not. They aren't directing the shoot or choosing the final image. They don't set the standard.
The Swimsuit Issue launches modeling careers, it's a highly specific look and a narrow set of poses that make it year after year. Anyone who wants the job is going to do that in their cover try; I can't imagine that the outtakes from every shoot in the last 10 years doesn't include one of these types of photos. Could Hannah Davis not have almost showed you her pussy? Absolutely. But then she wouldn't be on the cover. Someone else would.
So what's next?
Not totally sure. I guess I'm hoping that I can keep making money by getting my photo taken by people. I worry sometimes that at some point I'll have to start actually showing people my pussy instead of just making it look like I am about to show them my pussy. But, for right now, I am just enjoying the moment and having fun meeting all these people who like me because I made it look like they were about to see my pussy on the cover of a major, mainstream magazine. It really makes me feel like a professional.
Right, one day she'll have to do actual porn; that's all she'll have left, and that will be the lowest possible point, and isn't this all kind of sad actually how that's the only reason she is a big deal?
Our culture is awash in pornographic imagery and Sports Illustrated is just another try-hard trying to keep up. Which isn't to say that we should all sit back and smile for our facial, but rather, that there are probably better uses of our energy when it comes to critiquing the industries that breathlessly try to out-pornifying each other. We should target them by examining their motives, not the motives of the models in question, who are simply going after the work that exists.
Instead we slobber; we salivate; we ooh, we ahh—then we demand that the women defend doing it—to make it make sense for us. You know what you're doing right? we seem to ask. You're…titillating us. Isn't that the point? Since we're titillated, isn't it…naughty? And what does it say about you for being so naughty? Well, what does it say about us? And then the model or actress with the sexy photo or nude scene must say: No, it's no big deal. It's totally not. It's the most normal thing in the world. Nothing scandalous about it.
It's all part of our weird shame spiral of Puritanism and prurience, and these sorts of pictures in mainstream, ubiquitous places make us squeamish. That's pornographic! And it's not over there with the porn where it's supposed to be! What's she doing there, making me uncomfortable?
And this is the weird rock and a low-slung bikini place we put women in when they traffic in their own sexuality as a commodity. But the models are just doing their jobs—it's us who needs to stop being so dumb about it.