Sports Illustrated Strippers and The Decline in the Virtue of Modesty

Aly Raisman, former Olympic gymnast and one of the many victims of serial abuser Larry Nassar, offered this troubling defense of her appearance the in Sports Illustrated (SI) soft-core porn “swimsuit” issue wearing nothing but dumb slogans written on her body:

Women do not have to be modest to be respected–Live for you!… The time when women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies is OVER.

She’s right. Women don’t “have to be modest to be respected.” We should respect humans because they’re human. But not all behavioral choices should be respected. Choosing to be immodest—like appearing nude in a men’s magazine—is a choice that ought not be respected.

I’m not quite sure what Raisman means in tacking on the words “Live for you” to her first statement. I guess she lives to be immodest.

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Modesty is not synonymous with shame. Modesty in this context means “regard for decency of behavior or dress.” Shame refers to “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper etc.”

Modesty is a virtue to be cultivated, and women should feel shame over stripping for SI. (Men too should feel shame for stripping, but we’re discussing female SI strippers.)

I’m not sure who Raisman thinks is teaching women to be ashamed of their bodies, but I’ll tell you who I think is: advertisers, the modeling industry, women’s magazines, pornography, and the soft-core porn issue of Sports Illustrated—all of which depict images of a very narrow segment of the female population. They depict young, beautiful, well-proportioned women with dewy, flawless skin—you know, like Aly Raisman.

Raisman and other strippers shouldn’t feel ashamed of their bodies. They should feel ashamed of choosing to expose their bodies to the public for the sexual pleasure of strangers.

Journalist Britt Henry offered this tepid criticism of the SI stripper issue:

Why does a woman have to pose nude to feel “empowered”? Isn’t it more empowering to keep your clothes on, go into an office or classroom like everyone else and excel?

In response to Henry, former pro-golfer Paige Spiranac defended stripping for SI:

Different women feel empowered in different ways and it’s not right to tell someone what they can and cannot do.

Didn’t Spiranac just tell Henry what she ought not do? What if Henry feels empowered by criticizing stripping?

And what about women who feel empowered by starving or cutting themselves? What about women who feel empowered by being naked at public pools? What about women who feel empowered by their sexual relationship with their brothers or fathers?

(BTW, Henry did not tell anyone what they “can and cannot do.” She asked questions that implied stripping isn’t a good thing to do.)

What SI strippers are saying is that there should be no moral evaluation of any action they autonomously choose. No questions asked about whether stripping is a moral act or not. No questions about whether stripping contributes to the objectification of women or encourages male lust. No questions about whether strippers serve as good role models for young girls. No questions about whether stripping for SI contributes to women feeling ashamed of their average, imperfect bodies. Nope, all that’s permitted in response to purportedly autonomous choices is affirmation.

Empowerment seems to mean nothing more than “I feel good.” These strippers probably don’t want anyone to ask why they feel good about exposing their bodies to strangers who use those images to engage in onanistic activity. And they surely don’t want anyone to suggest it’s shameful to facilitate the poisoning of the minds and hearts of boys and men.

As porn of the soft- and hard-core varieties proliferates, young men who began being exposed to porn starting in middle school are finding themselves unable to perform sexually with real women, and marriages are being destroyed. The “autonomous” choices of “empowered” women to be immodest for money play a part in this mess. And for that, they should feel shame.

First published at Illinois Family Institute

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Laurie Higgins has worked as the Cultural Analyst for the Illinois Family Institute ( since the fall of 2008. Prior to that, she worked full-time in the writing center of a suburban Chicago high school, where all four of her children attended. She is currently working on bulking up her stick arms by dead-lifting her five grandchildren--one at a time, of course.

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