I’ve been noodling around the dilemna that face sports marketers in promoting women’s sports —athleticism vs. sex appeal.
Men are rarely criticized (by women or men) for flaunting their natural assets — witness David Beckham in Armani’s 2008 advertising campaign. In fact, men are appreciative, almost aspirationally so, of a guy displaying his assets and women are often quite verbal about a man’s sex appeal. In a recent airing of The View, when L. L. Cool J joined the ladies on the sofa, there was a whole lot of verbal acknowledgement of L.L.’s particular assets.
By contrast, women, whose natural assets include their curves, hair, etc. are not generally ‘allowed’ to promote their natural wares without controversy from many directions. When you look at Serena Williams’ recent Jane magazine photo shoot or Amanda Beard’s Playboy layout, in addition to the obvious, they also bring their undeniable athletic successes. Plus, these women have more control over their images and careers than their peers from earlier generations and have invested a great deal of time and energy to sculpt their bodies to maximize their athleticism. Why shouldn’t they celebrate this?
I can’t help but wonder: is the debate about the appropriateness of a woman showing off her body rooted in a time when she was a marginalized, accidental or controversial player on various stages, e.g., career, money, power, position, etc., traditionally monopolized by men? Could it be that America as a culture has not quite found the balance between whether women are exercising personal choice or are victims of some form of exploitation–whether it’s movies, advertising or the corporate environment?
A few years ago Dove launched its highly successful campaign for real beauty which featured “real women” feeling good about their bodies and themselves. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see women across the spectrum reflect a healthy acceptance of all of who we are–curves and all? If Dove can make the marriage between a woman and her curves work then surely sports marketing–where the body is an important element–can do the same.