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.