Roxy promotes female surfers – but without the surfing

If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need me to tell you all about the problematic history of media coverage as it relates to female athletes.  From news profiles of the first professional female ball players that focused on their cooking skills to obsessive analysis of the waistlines and hairstyles of the Olympians in London, media of all kinds has shown an embarrassing tendency to focus on everything about female athletes but their athleticism.

Now, I do think there has been some progress. For instance, Nike has done some pretty great work portraying female athletes in action, while ESPN: The Magazine’s Body Issue, while not perfect, has published nude portraits of female athletes that are not only beautiful but also powerful and exciting.  We are a long, long ways from the days when people could only deal with seeing female athletes as long as they have been assured that those female athletes are perfectly feminine and sexual and docile in every possible way.

At least, this is the case for a lot of us.  However, I think the creative team at Roxy may still need to catch up with the rest of us.

Janna Irons, the managing editor of Surfer magazine, published an editorial Tuesday in which she called attention to Roxy’s rather odd attempt to publicize its upcoming competition in Biarritz:

Usually, I’m of the opinion that if a girl (surfer or otherwise) is comfortable with herself and wants to pose for a racy photo or video shoot, and people want to pay her money for it, more power to her. But this isn’t a sexy editorial video or a promotion for a brand’s clothing line, it’s the vessel for sharing with the world what women’s competitive surfing is all about. And yet not a single wave is ridden.

The video is something that needs to be seen to be believed, so here you go:

That’s one minute and 47 seconds of a woman laying in bed, getting out of bed, putting on a shirt, touching a laptop, taking the shirt off, taking a shower, walking, making phone calls, driving, walking some more – basically, doing everything except SURFING.  Toward the end we get a full ten seconds of the faceless surfer paddling in the water.  (No face, but lots of ass!)

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that the faceless surfer is carrying a surfboard and the fact that I am already familiar with Roxy’s brand, I would have had no clue that I was watching a promo for a surfing competition.  And not just any surfing competition, but according to Irons, a surfing competition that could very well decide the world champion.

Can you imagine the NBA trying to get people psyched for the Finals by showing Lebron rolling around on a bed?  Or a tight shot of Kevin Durant’s ass as he walks into Chesapeake Energy Arena, clutching a basketball?  Of course not, because that shit is silly.

It’s not like I don’t get what Roxy is trying to do. They want to sell women’s surfing on the basis of its sex appeal.  When it comes to marketing, “sex sells” is used so often that it has become a tired out cliche.  But research has found that using sex to sell women’s sports doesn’t really work all that well. As women’s sports advocate and media critic Mary Jo Kane put it, “Sex sells sex, not women’s sports.”

The thing that really boggles my mind, though, is that Roxy could have had it both ways. They could have played up the sex appeal while still respecting the surfer as, you know, a surfer.  I mean, surfing is a really sexy sport!  Surfers are often in swimwear and soaking wet and tanned and, frankly, super foxy.  That foxiness is only enhanced when they are actually surfing, because their sport requires balance and agility and fearlessness.  Their hips gyrate, their bodies tense and relax, they are in tune with something larger than themselves.  A good surfer is a beautiful sight to behold, no matter the gender.  Check it out:

I mean, is it really necessary to sex up surfing?

Alas, Roxy seems to think so – at least where women are concerned. Not only that, but they went for an old-fashioned kind of passive female sexiness, one in which faceless women are shown doing very little besides being sexy with tousled beach hair and teeny panties.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but this kind of sexiness is about as edgy as Hugh Hefner, who is, might I remind you, a man in his 80s who hasn’t gotten out of his bathrobe since the Clinton administration.  It’s the 21st century. Surely our ideas of female sexuality have evolved to the point that we can look at a woman actually doing something and see the beauty and sex appeal in that?

And I’ll admit – part of me can’t help but feel a bit annoyed on a personal level as well. This video is taking a woman, who I assume is a top surfer and thus one of the best in the world at her pursuit, and decontextualizing her from her athletic talents and instead presenting her as a pretty…well, we never see her face, so a pretty head of hair.  Once again, it’s that blasted fucking message, the one that says, “Ladies, no one cares what you can do, we just want you to be hot. And not just hot, but hot in a really specific way.”   Just what this world needs – yet another contribution to the already-massive body of media imploring us women to care first and foremost about the way we look.

It appears as though Roxy is positioning the video as the first of a series, so I have a little bit of hope that maybe the next few videos will be better, but I’ll be honest, I’m not holding my breath.

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40 responses to “Roxy promotes female surfers – but without the surfing

  1. I started to say I got it, even if it was a dumb idea, if the person in the commercial was not a surfer but a model. But hell, just use a surfer in a commercial for a surfing competition. It seems so much simpler. But what do I know- ladybrainz and all.

    However, with a tad more thought, I do know guys in this day and age who still prefer this type of passivity. Who prefer to have something like this just sort of lazily, I dunno, aimed at their eyeballs. I mean, clearly, this is meant to be consumed in a particular way, and probably by a particular group.

    • Oh, I do too. *waves at ex-husband* But the thing is that the kind of guy who wants a flesh-and-blood blow-up doll for a girlfriend is not the kind of guy who is going to watch women’s surfing, so why do advertisers waste their time trying to get that demographic to pay attention? It makes about as much sense as trying to sell cars to the Amish. It’s so unlikely to happen, so why even bother?

      • I would guess just pure habit. They’ve been marketing to those guys for so long and so often now that they’re the only people who get marketed to, and most of the rest of us are just used to it.

  2. This commercial also promotes driving with no shoes. Not smart Roxy, not smart.

  3. It is almost unbelievable that this advert was approved to go out given the level of blatant sexual objectification going on. It conjures up the image of female surfers as simply sexy rather than super talented and cool and that’s a shame. It’s inspired me to write about something similar which has been at the back of my mind for a while- although I’m sure they’d have much preferred I’d been inspired to buy sexy surfer outfits or whatever they are selling. (I’ve actually forgotten already.) #marketingfail

  4. They’re trying to reach an audience that would be too intimidated by champions actually surfing. Thir model’s daily activities show that she, just like you there at home, has a regular life, and surfs, too. It’s not my ideal of advertising, but I can see their point. I’ll bet that they did market research and consumers felt pro surfers’ lives were too distant.

  5. Oops–forgot to mention it’s Steph Gilmore in the ad. Since it’s called Who Am I?, another installment will show more surfing, I’ll bet.

    • Thank you! I went and checked her out and she’s a total badass. I hope the next installments show more of her actually surfing and less of her swanning about in panties.

  6. This looks more like a HTC advert for a woman with an active life than a surfing ad. Surfing is sexy whether male or female. They could have shown a group of women surfing and having fun. That would have worked.

    • If HTC is one of the sponsors of the competition, then they should be very happy with this video, as it seems like exposure to their brand is one of the primary things people have taken away from it.

    • I thought it was an HTC add too! Also what was up with the mans dress shirt? They clearly want us to see her as sexy AND fuckable. Because having her roll around in her panties instead of surf didn’t make that clear enough. Uggg.

  7. Margeaux, if I’m going to be too intimidated to take up surfing by watching people surfing, chances are I’m not really a person for whom surfing will ever be a thing. I mean, if I was looking at shots of anything and thinking ‘Oh, the horrors!’ then I’d probably know just from that it wasn’t for me. I found the focus on her body more intimidating than I would have found some surfing shots, because my body doesn’t look anything like hers and in placing so much importance on how she looks it makes me feel I’m not pretty enough to surf. Whereas when I looked at shots of women actually surfing I was looking at how they were moving their bodies and seeing things I could maybe do.

    • This video is supposed to be promoting a surfing tournament, though, so while Roxy is a clothing manufacturer, the actual thing being advertised IS professional surfing.

  8. I dont think it really matters what Roxy is trying to sell. It’s how they portray it I have a problem with. Going from Margeaux’s idea that they are trying to show that pro-female surfers are just like you or me they could have done it differently, way differently and in a much more positive way. Show me a hot surfer girl who kicks ass on the waves and than goes home to read a book, that would make me connect with her. Show me someone being fierce and strong and body positive and I want to buy what they’re selling because it makes me feel like I can be fierce and strong and body positive. Either way they need to fix this.

    • I thought about this yesterday, when I was watching a show produced by the people behind XTERRA, and they were showing all kinds of things to do around Maui. One of the activities they talked about was skimboarding, and then they did this whole thing about how it is increasing in popularity with women and girls. Watching them skimboard made ME really want to learn how to skimboard. It’s really not complicated – show people doing the activity, and people will want to do the activity.

  9. Unbelievable. I don’t know which annoys me more; that they had to go the “sexy” route at all; that they portray sexiness as passivity; or that she’s become an anonymous body. I know they’re doing “guess the surfer” or whatever, but it’s still another example of reducing women to their bodies.

    It’s not a solution that can be implemented in the next week, but we need more women watching and supporting women’s sports – let the advertisers realize who their market is, and the advertising will change. Look how much car commercials have changed since they realized women are the main deciders on purchases.

    • I’ve actually been making a big effort to go out of my way to watch the women’s sports that interest me (soccer, basketball, track) and to be vocal about it on social media and such, because I recognize that if advertisers/officials think the only people who care about sports are guys aged 18-49, we’re never going to see any sort of changes in the culture surrounding it.

      (I feel like I should note that I’m not only doing this for activist-y reasons, but also because I do like watching these sports. The activist-y reasons are fueling me to be more vocal about it, though.)

  10. This is so incredibly frustrating because, as you point out, women surfers are already gorgeous and necessarily have their bodies on display while they are competing in their fierce sport. And the things that they can do with those bodies are incredible! Its also frustrating because, at least a couple of years ago, Roxy’s catalogs were really focused on photographs of women surfing. The people in the catalog were their sponsored pro surfers actually surfing in the clothes. I really hate that they’ve ditched that marketing strategy for whatever this is.

    • Wow, so they really backslid, didn’t they? That’s really unfortunate. You’d think that they would be all about showing how functional their clothes are, as well as how stylish, since they are positioned as a surfwear line.

    • That is OUTRAGEOUS. I mean, it’s one thing for idiots on Twitter to blabber on and on, because there are always going to be jackasses out there who think that what stiffens their weens is the most important thing in the world, but a BBC commentator? I hope they fire his ass.

  11. That BBC thing is DISGUSTING. At least the Roxy ad was covertly sexist. Well. Not really. I mean, don’t we all sleep topless in adorable undies, sensually roll out of bed, slip on a sheer button-down shirt then take hot showers under the world’s COOLEST shower head?

    My question is: why bother showering before surfing? You’re gonna smell like fish in 20 minutes.

    • I laughed and laughed and laughed at your last sentence. So much truth. I got out of the water after swimming yesterday and reeked like a damn fishmarket in July.

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  14. Wow—you are right about the ad. Not being familiar with the sport or brand, I initially thought the ad was promoting female underwear, and was surprised that it was about a surfing competition. Ads like this once again turn female athletes into sexual objects and put the focus on that, instead of their athletism. …This kind of reminds me of the recent trend of a team of women playing football in lingerie. Have you ever heard or seen that sport?

    • Oh god, the Lingerie Football League, lol. I wrote a post about it a couple of years back and it is one of the handful of posts that consistently attracts sexist brotrolls who want me to know how very wrong I am about the LFL.

      I’m interested to see the next installment in Roxy’s marketing campaign. They got a lot of heat from all corners for this one, so I’m hoping that the next episode corrects some of the bullshit with this one.

  15. This is a stupid jealous group, and if you wanted to learn about surfing you would realise:

    Its a promo to promot roxy brand not the surfing, the competion is sponsored by roxy.If you actually watched the competion you would realise that the girl is a pretty awesome surfer!!
    Stephanie Louise Gilmore is an Australian professional surfer and five-time world champion on the Women’s ASP World Tour.The video is a story, its her before the comp and this video is during the comp : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TktfceqSIgU

    I don’t understand why feminist groups think its ok to always start jugding before they have the evidence based knowlegde,in this case of who the women is.

    Of course they can’t show a promo video of the surfer surfing because they have not taken the event, plus it would ruin the surpise. Surfers are only film during the event or actual surfing, soo yeah they wont show how good a surfer is because its ruins the comp, like you wouldn’t see a film of andy murry playing a tennis sponsed by a company would you? So why surfing? The surfer will only be filmed during the comp, because waves are not straight forward like a gym or running track they move and are wild, its all about the surf on the day and the strongest surfer who can move gracefully with the waves wins!!!! If this group wanted to learn about surfing then they need to realised promoting it is called paitence!

    video of roxy girls who surf!! No harm, get over it girls, the jealously is only bitchy.

    • Usually whenever I get a comment like “you’re just jealous,” I know that the person saying it pretty much has conceded that they don’t have an argument. I actually tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, though, and thought about what you had written so I could respond, but the problem is, you really are not making an argument at all.

      The point of the post – which I am not sure you actually bothered to read – isn’t that I am somehow jealous of Stephanie Gilmore, but that Roxy, who is trying to promote a surfing competition (and by the way, companies regularly promote more than one thing at the same time), is falling into some tired old patterns when it comes to marketing female athletes. This is the argument I am making. You do not address that argument.

      Instead you talk about how I am being jealous and bitchy, which is something that I don’t see supported anywhere in my post. Do I think Stephanie Gilmore is beautiful? Sure, she’s gorgeous. Do I think she has an enviable lifestyle? You bet I do. I’d love to be a professional surfer. Does this mean I am jealous of her? No. So you’ve basically invented this motivation on my behalf, with no actual evidence to support it, and completely failed to respond to the substance of my argument. You will have to forgive me if I am less than swayed by your rhetoric.

      And for what it’s worth, I see ads featuring male tennis players all the time where they are actually playing tennis so I guess I don’t understand the statement “like you wouldn’t see a film of andy murry playing a tennis sponsed by a company would you?” Yeah, you actually do see that all the time.

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