Redefining ‘beauty’—USU grads take on sexism in SI swimsuit issue

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Source: CVDaily Feed
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LOGAN—Lindsay and Lexie Kite have taken their campaign against media sexism to one of the premier icons of female objectification—the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Protesting SI’s objectification of women (“soft porn,” they call it), the University of Utah PhD students are using sticky-notes with phrases like, “You are capable of much more than looking hot,” to spread their message that media outlets can damage women’s self-worth.

The sisters, who graduated from Utah State in 2006, have researched the female body image for years and are now in the national limelight with their campaign to call down Sports Illustrated for its sexist attitudes toward women.

The campaign, which has gotten supporters thrown out of bookstores, is part of their years-long work with their non-profit foundation Beauty Redefined.

“I did a 40-year analysis of the swimsuit issue because I was so intrigued how it has become what it is today, under the guise of sports journalism,” Lexie said. What she found was a drastic change of a few pages in the middle of the sports magazine of women wearing full swimsuits.

SI has “normalized pornography,” she says, “where women are in a state of undress, more often unclothed than clothed.”

The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition sells millions of copies and generates a significant percentage of the magazine’s annual revenue. In their research, the Kites have found a change in the magazine’s swimsuit edition, which no longer has anything to do with women’s athlete prowess.

“This is a magazine that is largely marketed to men because they rarely take opportunity to feature female athletes within their pages and especially not on their covers,” Lindsay Kite said. “But this is not a men’s magazine. This isn’t Penthouse, Playboy or Hustler. This is Sports Illustrated.

“Back in the ’80s and even throughout the ’90s, they featured women on their covers and within their pages, female athletes, much more often than they do now … They have taken a real turn.”

Beyond the lack of serious coverage of women athletes in SI, the sisters say they are are disgusted by the amount of Photoshop, digital manipulation and cosmetic surgery seen in female imagery in the mass media.

“We see women being enhanced surgically and digitally creating [unrealistic] ideals,” Lindsay said. “We become totally desensitized to these things.”

The Kite sisters have received a lot of publicity with their sticky-note campaign, including vast amounts of negative comments from critics who say they are just angry, ugly and jealous.

“As you can see in these comments, people are absolutely enraged that we would think there is something objectionable about the swimsuit issue,” Lindsay said. “People are so used to seeing this kind of explicit images in the grocery store checkout stand that they think we are just conservative and prudish and trying to censor these images, when absolutely that is not what we are doing.

“We are all about fighting the objectification of women,” she said. “When women are consistently viewed as objects they learn to view themselves as objects. And that means they treat themselves poorly.”

Media images can be damaging to both women and men as they come to view idealized and Photoshopped “beauty” as normal and expected.

“We know that most women and girls feel terrible about their bodies,” Lindsay said. “The word ‘disgusted’ comes up more often than not within studies. When women see themselves, especially in comparison to idealized images like these on the swimsuit issue, then they learn to view themselves as sub-par, and then treat their bodies that way.”

Brenda Cooper, an associate professor of journalism and communication at Utah State University and former director of USU’s Women & Gender Studies Program, agrees. Because images of women are so often sexualized, they limit how society perceives women.

“We have a very limited perception of women,” Cooper said. “We need a broader range of worth for women. When we depict a strong woman, she comes off as a bitch … When powerful women are depicted without sexuality; they are shown as evil.”

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