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.