Aly Raisman is proud of her body. That didn't stop critics from slamming her for appearing nude in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, though. "I actually had somebody say something to me a couple months ago saying, 'I don't understand how you can complain that you were molested because you participated in Sports Illustrated Swim,'" the 23-year-old told People Now. But she's not backing down.
The two-time Olympian made headlines in January when she bravely delivered a scathing speech at the sentencing hearing of the man who sexually abused her. In her interview with People Now, Raisman said that a key to ending the cycle of abuse is for people to stop shaming women for their sexuality.
Raisman was one of a number of women (including size 16 model Hunter McGrady and 52-year-old Pauline Porikova) featured in SI Swimsuit's "In Her Own Words" project, where participants were given total creative control, choosing everything from the words written on their bodies and the poses to the hair and makeup.
In one picture, Raisman has the word "survivor" written across her chest just below her collarbone. In another, the word "fierce" runs down her arm. And a third shows her lying on her back with one leg propped up with the words "abuse is never okay" stretching the full length of her side.
The images, shot by a female photographer on a closed set, are meant to be empowering, a chance for the models to "share their truth," according to SI. But critics have been quick to label the entire project as tone-deaf, even hypocritical. The problem, they say, is less the images themselves and more the context.
"The messaging just falls a bit flat when those photos are sandwiched between more sexy photos of all those pretty girls in those beautiful places who have yet to be given the commercial chance 'to be who they are,'" writes Emma Gray on Huffington Post.
Alexandra Schwartz of The New Yorker also took aim at the shoot, calling it "silly" and writing (with tongue firmly planted in cheek), "It seems that removing models' remaining scraps of clothes in the name of empowerment has not been widely taken in the liberating spirit in which it was intended." (Ouch!)
Raisman could have ignored the criticisms, but that's not her style. "Women can be intelligent, fierce, sexy, powerful, strong, advocate for change while wearing what makes them feel best," she wrote on her Instagram.
"The time where women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies is OVER. The female body is beautiful, and we should all be proud of who we are, inside and out," she added.
She also referenced the words she'd had written on her body: "Women do not have to be modest to be respected — Live for you!"
This isn't the first time an SI Swimsuit model has expressed a similar sentiment. Last year the magazine's final page featured model Nina Agdal wearing bikini bottoms and a wet tank emblazoned with the line, "A woman does not have to be modest to be respected."
But regardless of where it's written, people need to take those words more seriously.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you seen the photos from SI's "In Her Own Words" project? Do you think they're empowering or objectifying? Do you agree with some of the critics that the problem is more the context than the images themselves? Let us know in the comments below.