BYU and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Apparently in about a week BYU will host a “Women’s Empowerment Event” that is a local variation of similar such events that are being held around the country. Looking at the invites and speakers for the most part it looks like a pretty typical DEI-type event with a bunch of corporate sponsors and speakers such as the Utah Women and Leadership Project, the United Way, and BYU Women’s Services. That’s fine. 

The surprising detail is that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit appears to be one of the primary participants, with their models keynoting one of the two panels. 

Now, I would love to see a public, BYU-sponsored panel where the Relief Society President had, say, a dialogic, back-and-forth discussion/debate with an SI model about the nature of female empowerment in society, and the fact that somebody is an SI model does not make them unqualified to speak on such a subject. 

However, this does not appear to be one of those types of events, but rather a more generic “ra ra girl power, brought to you by Maybelline” type conference. As such, the involvement of SI models alongside famously sexually conservative BYU and Church leaders is a clear case of reputation laundering, as seen on Sports Illustrated’s website where they make sure to state that “numerous senior members of BYU athletics and Church of Latter Day Saints [give them a break, given the state of journalism today they probably can’t afford a copy editor] will be in attendance, as well as participating SI Swimsuit talent.” 

Now, I have no desire to shame anybody. SI models have not opted into our values, so they should not be held to them or judged by them any more than I would judge my Catholic neighbor for drinking coffee or a gay atheist for having gay sex. I’m sure they’re incredibly diplomatic, intelligent and articulate women. Still, co-hosting a “girl power” event with them clearly plays into a sociocultural perspective on female empowerment that is at variance with what the Church teaches, and to say it would send mixed messages is putting it very gently.

18 comments for “BYU and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

  1. “Now, I have no desire to shame anybody. SI models have not opted into our values, so they should not be held to them or judged by them any more than I would judge my Catholic neighbor for drinking coffee or a gay atheist for having gay sex.”

    For the sake of argument, can you please spell out what values you are referring to Stephen? And why being a model automatically disqualify one from sharing these same values?

    Some consider kindness a value. Others consider caring for the planet a value. It would seem you consider not drinking coffee a value. I fail to see how a model couldn’t value any of these things.

    I am very not up to date on this subject. So I just went to the SI swimsuit website. There is at least one headline picture of a girl wearing a swimsuit that would meet the requirement for girls camp where I live. While other swimsuits might not always suit all the self-imposed standards of this faith community, most of them appear to simply be functioning bathing suits.

    I don’t know how you think you know the value set of a swimsuit model. Are you 100% certain none of the models is a member of your faith tradition? Are you 100% certain none of the models share similar values as you notwithstanding they are a model? Care to elaborate?

  2. Nooooooooooooo, say it ain’t so! This “I’m so empowered I’m taking my clothes off to prove it!” feminism is such a bad joke. I am sorry to see BYU play into this charade.

  3. Note that this is a Big 12 event, not just BYU, and something they do on multiple campuses. The SIS panel will be moderated by the “Big 12 chief impact officer,” not anyone from BYU or the Church. I imagine Sports Illustrated is counting the presence of Church leaders at other events that day and very much doubt President Johnson will attend their panel.

    Still, this is embarrassing. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue is at least pornography-adjacent, with the clear goal of causing people to “look upon [women] to lust after [them].” It contributes to the objectification and degradation of women. (I won’t speak for Stephen C, but those are the values I see in play, Chadwick.)

    Maybe there was a contract issue. Or maybe they wanted to avoid headlines like “BYU Bans SI Swimsuit Models.” But I very much wish this wasn’t happening at BYU.

  4. @ Chadwick,
    I have nothing against models per se, but it is an undeniable fact that Sports Illustrated has continually used their platform to promote the idea that empowering women means sexualizing them. Just because our massively broken culture has moved toward harder porn than said swimsuit issues doesn’t make this right. As a woman, I find this unacceptable on several levels.
    One, the idea that femininity should be conflated with sexuality is fundamentally wrong. This is the kind of thinking that allows men to dress up as an exaggerated stereotype of a sexualized woman and insist that they, too, are women – and shout down any woman who protests. Sexuality is certainly an aspect of womanhood, but it is not the whole.
    Two, while I can agree that I don’t know the value systems that the various Sports Illustrated models espouse, at least implicitly they are absolutely opposed to the church’s view of women, since the swimsuits issues are less about selling swimsuits and more about selling lust. There is no way you can tell me that women are the primary audience to which Sports Illustrated caters, or that the models don’t know what they’re promoting going in.
    There are certainly those who want to ‘change the culture’, and that may be sincere, but ultimately trying to fix what’s broken in our society isn’t going to happen by coming down to the world’s level. No matter their intent going in, these swimsuit models are contributing to sexualized stereotypes that absolutely saturate the world today. They are not making progress on that front by participating.
    Look, I don’t even like BYU, but this is a bad representation of our church’s stances on women’s issues. Stephen C. is absolutely right that it sends, at best, very mixed messages.

  5. Relax boys, the models will be talking, not modeling. Don’t create a cancel culture at BYU because you disagree how these ladies make a living. Intelligent dialogue and the examples of the BYU participants may change some hearts and minds.

  6. Your title is again inaccurate. They aren’t hosting a swimsuit event. They are hosting aBig 12 event – as the conference has done on other campuses.

    Some models will be attending as part of a panel.

    That is the end of the story.

  7. @Brian G: The title is not saying it’s a swimsuit event; it’s an event by the brand “Sports Illustrated Swim.” That’s how it appears in the program. I presume the models will not be wearing swimsuits (you have to buy the magazine for that) but they are identified as “SI Swim models.” Other than adding “suit” to the official brand name (I presume Stephen C doesn’t get a copy editor either) the title is perfectly accurate.

    The fact that it’s part of a larger Big 12 program is important context, particularly for understanding how this came to be, but does not change the fact that BYU is hosting an event by a brand that’s problematic, to say the least.

  8. I was unclear on whether the Costa Vida lunch will be free, like the rest of the advertised events. If so, would I be able to go if I identified as a woman on that day? If not, will there be a men’s awareness day, perhaps with Chippendale dancers, that offers a Costa Vida lunch? Hugh Nibley said lunch is supposed to be free.

  9. @RLD This is the title: “ BYU Is Hosting a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Event.’

    This makes it seem like BYU is having a swimsuit shoot or something. It is not.

    It’s an odd choice for a panel. I would think sports illustrated if it wanted to enhance a women’s empowerment event would include female coaches or athletes or reporters. That would be a much more interesting and engaging panel I imagine. The combo of Maybelline and models is as if the event was planned by Ken from the Barbie movie.

  10. If this is the sort of price that BYU agreed to in order join a big-shot sports conference, then it becomes a lot easier to imagine the Cougars going the way of the Vikings and the Seasiders sooner rather than later. An unneeded complication disconnected from the rest of the school that serves little for what it costs but will still do anything for a buck.

  11. @Brian G, you’re parsing the title as “BYU Is Hosting a [Sports Illustrated] [Swimsuit Event].” I parsed it as “BYU Is Hosting a [Sports Illustrated Swimsuit] [Event].” I didn’t see that it could be read another way until you made your post. I’m quite sure Stephen C intended the latter, which is accurate if not unambigous.

    Incidentally, I said earlier that the brand is officially “Sports Illustrated Swim” but that’s only on the BYU site. On their own site it is indeed “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.”

  12. Oh no! It is the end times! Woe, woe, woe….

    Seriously, overreact much? First, do you really believe that BYU’s administration would allow models participate in an event on campus wearing something out of the SI swimsuit issue? Second, all of the pearl clutching over the suits portrayed in that issue is unbelievably overwrought. Mormon culture has demonized women’s bodies to the point of modifying classic art to avoid “porn shoulders.” I mean, many Mormon leaders and members would prefer the burqa to any sort of normal swim suit. Finally, all of the implications about the downfall of BYU and the evils of joining the Big 12 are laughable.

    Find other things to worry about; this is not even a miniscule issue.

  13. This morning, the Trib characterizes the SI Swimsuit issue as being famous for its “hypersexualized depictions of women”. But then again, the Trib has always been known for its prudery, hasn’t it?

  14. Hi all, I did indeed mean it as a “Swimsuit Event” in the sense that it is an event by the brand Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, not that it is literally an event where they will be showing off swimsuits. I’ve changed the title to make it clearer.

Comments are closed.