Advertising Strength to Women

In the last year, a new trend in advertising workout gear to women has been on the forefront of the media landscape.  The norm  in fitness product advertisements was quite similar to those of Skechers‘ Shape Ups, where it was connoting a fit body with a sexy body.  If you are a woman, and you wear these consta-work out shoes, you’ll get a better looking body.

Ignoring for a moment that that’s just not physically true as the lovely Anderson Cooper explains in the video below, the bigger issue I see is that it’s also not a healthy truth.  What we count as “sexy” is constantly changing, but what denotes a healthy body, does not.

As today’s audiences, and women in particular, are a cynical demographic, advertisers have made a shift in what they present as fitness.  The first as I noticed that did this was UnderArmour‘s athletic advertisement:

This ad is titled “What’s Beautiful: Taking it Back,” and it most certainly resonated with its audience.  Personally, I saw this ad being shared by my female friends on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter daily.

Other brands started following suit, representing fit bodies as being strong, some print ads directly saying “Strong is the New Skinny.”

While this is undoubtedly a very good marketing ploy to address a cynical audience to satisfy the end goal of making profit, I believe it is a very good thing for society in general.  Advertising is both something that reflects our norms and creates new norms.  Something becomes normalized when we see it enough, and full frontal media assaults are very good at making things seem normal.

When I was a young girl of about 11 or 12, I really enjoyed javelin, and I was quite decent at it.  My coaches over the next six years consistently told me that I had decent technique, but that if I wanted to go further with it, I was going to have to get much stronger.  In my adolescent mind, I equated that with looking unfeminine and unattractive, and being a young girl, that’s not something I wanted.

I recently saw an interview between Graham Norton and Jessica Ennis, where she explained brilliantly having a similar dilemma as a young track athlete, and making the choice I didn’t.  It was fantastic to hear her say that she never regretted her choice and that she was happy to push herself out there as a role model for a different body.  A healthy, strong body.  The kind that advertisers are starting to promote the way they did with skinny bodies as being sexy.  I think now you would be hard pressed to find someone who described Jessica Ennis’ physical appearance as being unfeminine or unattractive.

The other good thing about this new wave of advertising, is that it is incredibly motivating.  Seeing the women in the ads above, and seeing how strong they are and the confidence that comes with that, makes me want to be a stronger person, both mentally and physically.  And I can’t be the only person that thinks that when they see these ads.  So regardless of their sales figures (which I am sure aren’t hurting in the light of these campaigns), they’re doing something good for the world, and all the girls in it, facing a crossroads as an athlete, debating whether or not they’ll still be feminine if they get stronger.  It lets them know that they have a choice as they grow up – to be a woman, or to be a strong, healthy, fit woman.

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