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In defence of Paige Spiranac

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The latest edition of one of the most famous publications in the magazine industry will hit American newsstands today.

Published annually since 1964, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition is famously infamous. For everybody who loves it, there’s someone who hates it. Opponents claim it legitimises the objectification of women. Its supporters counter that it's a harmless celebration of female sexuality.

This year’s edition has generated more interest than usual in golf circles on account of the involvement of Paige Spiranac.

Like her ‘co-stars’ in the mag, 24-year-old Spiranac appears in a variety of skimpy outfits and, in some photos, is seen posing topless with only her arms preserving her modesty.

The reaction to all this? It's probably best described as 'mixed'.

Many have applauded Spiranac, not least for using the platform afforded by the magazine’s high profile to continue her campaign against cyber-bullying.

2016 07 Paige Spiranac To Play In Aam Ladies Scottish Open 2

Others see it differently and have criticised Spiranac for what they see as contributing to the problem she is rallying against. How, they ask, can she complain about the attention she gets when she chooses to pose for provocative photographs?

It’s a divisive, contentious subject but has anyone in their haste to either ogle or judge bothered to consider what Spiranac herself thinks of it? Because surely that’s what matters most.

For what it's worth, she says she's “honoured” and “humbled” to be involved.  

“Different women feel empowered in different ways and it’s not right to tell someone what they can and cannot do,” she tweeted last night. “It’s more about the person you are and not the clothes you decide or not decide to wear.

She says that the experience has been cathartic and has helped her to feel more comfortable in her own skin.

“My body, my choice," she added.

A powerful message, delivered with conviction.

Which brings us back to surely the only point that really matters: Spiranac is happy with her choices and isn't breaking any laws - so who are we to criticise her?

I know, I know. Easy for me to say. I’m a guy. Of course I’m going to enjoy seeing a beautiful young woman wearing very little and posing provocatively on the beach and blah, blah, blah.

Paige Spiranac

Yes, I’m a guy. Yes, Spiranac is beautiful. But I’m also the father of a little girl and, since she was born late last, I’ve found myself seeing the world in a different (hopefully more empathetic) way.

The question I find myself asking is would I want my daughter to grow up and pose for Sports Illustrated the way Spiranac has done? Honestly, no I wouldn't - but, with apologies to Voltaire, I would defend to the death her right to decide for herself.

What we might have to say about Spiranac's decision should be neither here nor there. It's just that, as the world has become noisier in this social media age, every individual's voice has been amplified for the whole world to hear. 

That, in turn, has put the basic human privileges of 'choice' and 'freedom of speech' on a collision course. For every decision a person makes, there is somebody waiting to condemn it. It’s a weird anomaly.

What’s the solution? Funnily, I find myself drawn to the advice of another important female influence in my life: my mum.

Treat others they way you’d want to be treated was often heard in my house growing up. So too this: If you’ve got nothing good to say about somebody, then best to say nothing at all.

It’s damn good advice. Part of the responsibility that comes with having the right is knowing when and how to exercise the right.

It’s about respect. So, answer me this: is the world now so intolerant by default that this is something we need to be reminded to show?

Fair play to Paige. She's living her life on her terms.

That, in itself, is a pretty important, worthy lesson.

(Main picture: Sports Illustrated)

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