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Strong Is Beautiful Campaign Misses Its Own Point

September 6, 2011

The woman falls forward, her flowing dress rising to reveal her barely concealed bottom. Another is shown clad only in a crop top and tight bike shorts, sweat licking her glistening body. A pretty blonde steals the camera’s attention as her dress swings open and hints of cleavage. The screen flicks to another shot of a heavily made-up girl, her face a mixture of concentration and desire. This should be the opening to a bad soft-core porn film, indulged in by 13 year olds after their parents have gone to bed. Instead it is the latest installment in the WTA’s hit and miss campaign, ‘Strong Is Beautiful.’

Strong Is Beautiful started out as a refreshing, important idea. The title of the campaign promised to represent tennis players as strong, independent women, sending all the right messages to young girls. It was an exciting thought that girls would be given a different type of role model:  one that isn’t snapped falling out of nightclubs, doesn’t snort cocaine, and encourages a realistic body image. Women worldwide could see an alternative beauty ideal that encourages strength, dedication, and personality complete with a side of carbohydrates. The WTA had the power to show us strong, healthy women who are beautiful and botox-free.

When the campaign finally did release, there were mixed results. Some videos seemed to fit the theme. Ana Ivanovic was dressed in a pretty but modest gown and spoke in Serbian of the strength she had to develop growing up in war-torn Serbia. The video was interesting, showed another side of the tennis favourite, and she looked naturally pretty without being sexualised. The dress showed that sporty girls needn’t confine themselves to the jock stereotype; athletic girls can enjoy fashion just as much as anyone else.

 

It is a shame the WTA couldn’t continue with those themes. Victoria Azarenka in particular was shown in a barely clothed state, the camera moving slowly up her sweaty body as she spoke of crushing the ball. What the WTA was showing wasn’t the strong woman Azarenka is, but a hyper-sexualised version of her best suited to men’s magazines. In the latest film – the one mentioned in the intro above – the WTA really lost its way. With sweat dripping off their faces and plenty of flesh, the WTA seemed to be fitting right in with the attention-seeking celebrity campaigns we are already over-exposed to.

Over-exposure is the main problem with the Strong is Beautiful campaign. By showing so much flesh and disguising natural beauty behind layers of make-up, we are seeing the women as objects of desire, not the strong personalities they are. Sport is supposed to empower females, not objectify them. The WTA still has time to redeem themselves and refocus on the original message. Until then, they’re sending a completely different message we’ve heard time and time again that harms both womenkind and the WTA. Sex sells.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Morgan permalink
    September 6, 2011 4:27 pm

    Sex sells for the men, too. As a woman and club player, I have no problem with this campaign at all. Glistening sweat is still, at the end of the day, sweat. I don’t think Billie Jean King or anyone else from the WTA forced Azarenka to wear the tight shorts – and so what? How about Olympic runners and high jumpers and volleyball players who wear similar shorts? Or elite swimmers?

    Strength is power – and so is sex. The height of equality, to my mind, is for both strength and sex to co-exist.

    • September 10, 2011 2:53 am

      The problem, Morgan, is that–no matter how sexual the promotion of a male athlete is–he’s still considered an athlete first. A woman is never considered an athlete first, no matter what she accomplishes. As long as female athletes aren’t respected for their athleticism, it does matter how they are presented and marketed. It doesn’t matter with me because they are automatically respected as athletes.

  2. September 8, 2011 3:29 pm

    Hi Kait. I think the WTA is kind of in a don’t-know-what-to-do morass with all of this. Look at the headshots on the players’ profile pages on the WTA website. Seventy-five percent of them are spruced-up glamour shots and that doesn’t need to be the case.

  3. September 10, 2011 3:12 pm

    Too many men say women’s tennis is inferior and isn’t worth watching, primarily because of weak serving. The marketeers cater to this thinking by drawing that audience through the sexual objectification of female tennis players. On the other hand, my husband is a guy who prefers to watch women’s tennis because he finds it more interesting than the powerful, ball-banging men’s game. He does comment on how the women look, but he has never commented (out loud) about their sex appeal, or lack of it. He does comment about weight, however. One person is not an example, but could represent a larger-scale perspective.

  4. a101 permalink
    November 30, 2011 5:09 am

    This campaign is a clear contradiction of what it sets out to achieve. Firstly, through the sexualisation of these athletes they are conforming to the male gaze in society- producing images that are sexualised through the use of clothing, hair and accessories, aswell as the lighting and use of ‘sweat’. This therefore reproduces the patriarchal gender order of western society, empowering men and disempowering women, in a social institution that promotes their empowerment of women.
    As well as reproducing the gender order, I believe that the strong female body should be left to speak for itself, instead of using the clothing and hairstyling to try and enforce this message. By styling the athletes in this way, instead of promoting that strong is beautiful, they are stating that you can be beautiful as a muscular and fit athlete, but you must feminise your appearance in order not to trangress from the feminine ideal.

    Overall, I think the message the wta have tried to convey is a positive message for female athletes, but their way of producing and promoting this message gives mixed images of what female athletes should be- should we wear pretty, revealing dresses to be beautiful or should we embrace our strength?

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