The ultra-revealing cover shows Davis pulling down her already-minuscule bikini bottoms to within a millimeter of an area typically reserved for intimate partners and gynecologists. She's been waxed, it is evident, to bald perfection. One wrong breath, and she'd expose actual labia (how's that for newsstand-appropriate?)
Of course, Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit spectacular has never been without controversy. It's almost intended for controversy. Last year's cover featured three topless models, although they faced away from the camera. Supermodel Kate Upton's 2012 cover featured her in similarly barely there bikini bottoms.
Putting aside the fact that a woman is more likely to end up on the cover of Sports Illustrated for her ability to look amazing in a bikini than for her accomplishments as an athlete -- and indeed few press mentions of Davis' cover have noted that she is a former tennis champion, while few have omitted the fact that she is Derek Jeter's girlfriend -- it's possible to consider the notion that the issue's purpose is to celebrate the female form, with a side of swimwear.
I'm not opposed to celebrating beauty, especially when a woman works hard to achieve and maintain it. The idea of "if you have it, use it" is OK by me, even if the beauty the swimsuit issue tends to show off is a very specific sort of beauty. (Indeed, perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Davis' headline-generating cover overshadows what truly is a positive step for female empowerment: the issue's first-ever inclusion of a plus-size model, Robyn Lawley,
and in a bikini of her own design, no less. But you're hearing far less about that.)
This year, though, Sports Illustrated has gone too far. In the photo, Davis eager pulls down her bikini bottom and thrusts forward her pelvis in a way that's clearly meant to draw the eye to that very spot between her legs -- far more so than her eyes, or even her breasts. It's an invitation to picture her naked, and more. And in case there was any ambiguity of what the image is supposed to evoke, there's the clever cover line that begins: "Hannah Davis Goes Down South. ... "
It is explicitly explicit, and as such impossible not to view it as intending to reduce women to billboards and sex objects. Claiming to portray Davis this way in the name of "celebrating the female form" is a lie balder than her nether region.
After all, if the point isn't to objectify women for the pleasure of the male gaze, why has no one created a counterpart magazine featuring a scantily dressed man? Why are men so rarely offered up as objects to behold? Men aren't the only ones who like to "appreciate the beauty" of the opposite sex.
If the point isn't to objectify women, and subvert them in some way, then why isn't there a similar model for men? Instead, most examples of men gracing magazine covers with their bodies on display are for men's magazines, with a male readership. Why is it normal to "celebrate the female form" but not the male one?
Maybe that's next. But it's highly doubtful. The only thing remaining that could be more shocking than this year's cover image would be if the magazine decided next year to run a cover of a supermodel in a (gasp!) one-piece swimsuit. Risqué indeed!