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An argument for female athletes, not models, in sports ads

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
LISTEN: The argument for featuring athletes, not models, in ads for women's sportswear

Who’s wearing Adidas’ and Nike’s female lines these days? According to their recent advertisements, supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. This rubbed Ellie Krupnick the wrong way.

Krupnick is managing editor of Racked, a shopping website. She wrote an article called, Want to Sell Me Sportswear? Show Me an Athlete. After she saw Hadid and Jenner were signed by these major sportswear lines, she started digging around.

“Karlie Kloss for Adidas, Under Armour signed Gisele, Puma signed Kylie Jenner and Cara Delevingne,” Krupnick said. “These are all fashion models and yet they’re landing all of these athletic wear ads for all of the biggest brands.”

Krupnick thinks it’s a missed opportunity to feature female athletes.

“I think it matters in part because female athletes, like so many female professionals, often don’t get the same treatment that their male counterparts do,”
she said. “So I think it’s a matter of equality for these athletes to get the same profile and also to make the same money. When you look at male athletes today, where do they make their money? Sure, they make salaries from the leagues that they play in. But a lot of their money comes from these endorsements and advertising deals.”

“Forbes put together a list last year of the 100 highest paid athletes of the year,” Krupnick said. “Not a single woman cracked the top 25. Of the entire list of 100, the only two women on it were Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.”

Female athletes and positive body image

But she also thinks it’s important that girls and women seeing these ads see what an actual athletic body looks like.

“Even Serena Williams has so much criticism of her body,” Krupnick  said. “It shouldn’t come as a shock that she looks like that because she’s a really strong tennis player. We shouldn’t be shocked to see really strong bodies. For these Nike sneakers and Adidas sneakers and Under Armour gear, the majority of women who wear those things probably don’t have bodies that look exactly like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. We know statistically, based on average sizes, they don’t. It also seems like a tough standard to meet.”

“I work out and try to be strong and athletic and I end up with thighs that are much more muscular than the ones I see in the ads,” she said. “Or with a butt that’s bigger than the ones in the ads. It’s sort of this double standard: go ahead, be athletic, be super strong and while you’re doing that, try looking like this. I think it can screw with your brain to see these ads and see these models who look this way. When you put on those clothes, you might not look that way.”

For the record, Krupnick completely understands why the big athletic brands choose famous models to wear their clothes.

“There’s a money aspect and an awareness aspect that sort of work hand in hand in a cyclical way,” she said. “In a lot of ways you can’t blame an Adidas or a Nike or a Puma for wanting to hire a female in their ads who is really well known. You want to find someone who has a big fan base. There just aren’t as many big, female athletes. Everyone’s heard of Serena Williams, but can you name 10 other famous female athletes? I get that bottom line justification. But I think it’s cyclical in that if we raise more female athlete’s profiles, then they will be even stronger endorsers because more people will know who they are.”

She’d also love to see more alternative sports figures represented, like female surfers, skiers and skateboarders.

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