Flashback to last week, sitting on set watching a beautiful, curvy woman on the monitor - looking strong, happy and comfortable in her skin. These are the moments I dreamt of as a young creative. Shooting campaigns that celebrate and showcase women doing sport? THE DREAM. Was I feeling as confident and comfortable as the woman on the screen? Not even close. I was sitting there feeling pretty shit about the breakfast choices I had made that morning, the fact that I hadn’t done any exercise in five days now, or was it six? Or if I’d hit the “ideal” 10,000 step goal on set that day. I work on campaigns that include and celebrate bodies of all shape and sizes. I advocate and bang on about body positivity and inclusivity in most meetings. Surely, I should feel better about mine?
Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image. This sounds wonderful on paper, but the problem is that it doesn’t leave room for anything else. It’s a new expectation. A new pressure. To feel good about ourselves all the time is as unrealistic as the stick-thin model aesthetic we were fed in the 90s. Some days we feel great. Some days we feel terrible. Most of us live somewhere in the middle. By constantly telling people to love themselves just the way they are invalidates our feelings and makes us feel like we’re failing in a whole new way.
The old standard was thin, toned and happy. The new standard is jiggly, stretch-marked and happy. And it’s just as exhausting as it’s always been. The expectations are still the same. The unrealistic standards for confidence are still the same. There are just more options of bra sizes we get to feel insecure in. Social culture used to make us feel guilty for not being thin enough. Now it makes us feel guilty about not loving ourselves enough.
Don’t get me wrong. Seeing women with glorious body hair, soft bellies and sneaky tampon strings is inspiring and refreshing as hell. But it doesn’t automatically make you feel good about yours. Like diets, there are no quick fixes. There isn’t a shake or a workout to shake off generations of internalised body animosity.
From a marketing perspective, inclusivity is important. Sport England’s This Girl Can has helped more than 500,000 women and girls become more physically active. That’s why this kind of work needs to continue being made. It’s progress. And it’s hugely positive. It just bears remembering that seeing doesn’t equate to believing. No matter how much Lizzo we listen to, or how many wrinkled and dimpled women we see in campaigns, our body image problems still run deep.
The campaign we just launched for adidas invites all women to see themselves as athletes and reimagine what sport means to them. It features seven incredible women, Jessamyn Stanley, Mikaela Shiffrin, Nadya Okamoto, Denise Schindler, Mae Yoshikawa, Chinae Alexander and Jada Sezer who freely and unashamedly train in their own ways. It’s fun to watch and reminds me to move because it makes me feel good not because of any unattainable goals society has created for me.
As a creative director, I’m acutely aware that while we are doing a better job of representing all women, we’re still not representing all emotions, and the visuals we create can alienate and isolate women on the days that they don’t feel that #thisgirlcan about themselves.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The work we’re seeing now is more relevant, more real and so much more interesting to look at. It’s gone a long way to change the narrative, represent marginalised bodies, shine a light on fatphobia and show that sport is no longer a place reserved for the fastest, the fittest and the few.
Inclusive advertising isn’t going to suddenly solve all the body issues we have, but it will help create the new normal for our daughters and sons. The work we’re making now won’t fully change our own perceptions and preconceptions, but it will reimagine theirs.