Is The Use Of Supermodels And Celebrities To Sell Activewear Problematic?

November 17, 2016  |  

When it comes to activewear, do you really care who is selling it to you?

I pose that question after model Bella Hadid announced that she had been tapped to take part in a campaign for Nike. Unfortunately, her induction into the Nike family didn’t get the warmest reception. The model was labeled as “too thin” to sell clothing for the active and footwear company:

Some commented that Nike is about muscle and fitness, and to have Hadid as a representative of the brand is to give young girls “unrealistic expectations” when it comes to their bodies.
Then the conversation turned into one about why many popular activewear brands seem to use models and celebrities to market their apparel as opposed to athletes. Olympic skater Meryl Davis spearheaded such a conversation when she shared this tweet:

Of course, she could have been looking for an easy route to get her hands on a sponsorship deal with a major activewear company, but it’s an interesting observation to ponder. Granted, many companies use celebrities, models and Instagram stars to help sell their products. These individuals have a large fan base and appeal that can’t be denied, so companies are hoping to market to their followers and tap into what is the unknown for them. However, there is a difference between asking a star to collaborate on a fun shoe line, and asking them to help sell activewear. Why is it that Puma has Kylie Jenner selling us trainers while throwing around a medicine ball? Why was Rihanna selling us workout gear before she collaborated with Puma on her line of shoes? Why does Victoria Sport only have Victoria Secret’s supermodels rocking their line of fitness apparel, and then make us cringe in their attempts to sell it to us? And why do they all have a similar look? It’s why dancers were upset when Vogue tapped Kendall Jenner to portray a ballerina for a photo spread in the magazine, and why some were peeved when Under Armour inked a deal with Gisele Bundchen to help sell their apparel.

But I don’t wish to knock those women. They all have great bodies and they work out just like the rest of us. And that’s not to knock these brands either  — particularly Nike. A majority of the people who model their apparel are athletes, including Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Allyson Felix. And that’s also not to say that there is a specific criteria to be an athlete, so Skinny Minnies don’t fit. As Kevin Hart, who is also part of the Nike family put it, “Being an athlete is a mindset. We can all adapt that mindset.” No shade to any of them. Because the truth is, aside from fit athletes and slim models, we everyday little people could definitely complain about the fact that brands don’t feature women who look like us. It’s bad enough they already sell us thermal tights for more than $100 and make us pay $60 for a sports bra, only for these things to slide down, ride up or not even fit a segment of women looking to be more active. To the rest of us who are a work in progress, where is our representation? We are either being shown clothing on the fit body (the one that trains for a living), or the lean body (the one that trains for campaigns), but rarely anything in between. So while I get where athletes like Davis are coming from, we could all use a little more TLC from these companies.

We already see many of these models everywhere. Selling us Calvin Klein jeans. Selling us panties. Selling us designer clothing that costs more than our rent. And more than anything, selling us a certain body image and type all of the time. There is nothing wrong with those bodies, but there’s nothing wrong with the rest that run the gamut. So sure, it would be nice to see more activewear lines work to target the fit athletes who buy their apparel, but the same could be said of the average-sized, curvy and plus-size women exercising in the hopes of being healthier and happier, not just to look like a lean supermodel. We may not be as appealing to “the market,” but we are working out, too.

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