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Women’s Bodies, CrossFit & Advertising

Let’s get something straight, something that I think we can agree on: BODIES ARE AWESOME. I’m not gonna pretend that one of the best parts of my job isn’t watching strong bodies do amazing things all day, all glisteny with sweat and making sounds that, I mean, really, sound kinda naughty-fun if you close your eyes. Also not gonna lie and pretend that I don’t love looking at pictures of women’s bodies, generally speaking. Yum. I don’t know whether it’s aspiration, inspiration or just admiration, but yes, a strong woman doing hard things (no, not that kind) definitely gets me to pay attention.

So I am not even going to come close to saying that it isn’t okay to showcase strong women when you are trying to sell products to CrossFitters. In fact, I’d like to see a lot more of it. But, what the fuck is this:

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? ps. this is gross.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? ps. this is gross.

The irony is that this arrived in my inbox right after I sent FitAID an email saying that we were considering distributing their product in our gym. It was not a decision we arrived at lightly. We have resisted retail for 3 years now, but with more than 200 members, it has become clear that they need and want snacks and drinks. The problem is that we don’t want to push crap on our members that we don’t personally believe in. There is so much hype and garbage sold to people. Chemicals peddling fantasies, both of which we think do more harm than good.

We like people. We like bodies. We want to help people find and celebrate their strength, as they are. We don’t want to be part of the Fitspo nightmare that hurts so many people. That is the primary reason we have avoided retail, because of the douchebag, dudebro, fitspo marketing.

But, people seem to like FitAID, we were going to carry it. Until we got this email. I am a 45 year-old woman who owns a CrossFit gym. I am not only typical of the owners of gyms, I am a typical CrossFitter. And I, for one, am not going to put up with this crap by giving it my money.

So, what’s wrong with this? Why is there a gratuitous picture of a scantily clad chick, doing nothing but being scantily clad? A Booth Babe in an email is even grosser than a Booth Babe in real life. Does she CrossFit? Can she do anything? What’s with that veiled “wink wink, gimme a call, okay, Stud?” This isn’t an ad for a drink, it’s an ad for Tami.

It’s serving up Tami. You’ve been to Vegas, right? Doesn’t this look an awful lot like those fliers that people hand you, and that cover the sidewalks, scantily clad chicks with phone numbers? “Ps. ask me anything, I won’t tell.”

To be clear, I fully support the rights of sex-workers, think it should be legalized, destigmatized and everything else. But that’s not what I’m selling in my gym. Those fliers that we walk all over on the Vegas Strip are honest. They look like this, they are selling sex.

This isn’t. This is using a woman’s body in a salacious way to get you to buy something else altogether. It’s using a woman as a lure.

Worse than that, it’s selling the idea that THIS is what a strong body looks like. Skinny, white, and doing nothing but winking at you for a good time, if only you call. Ps. please call. (I keep using the period after ps, because they do, but it’s driving me nuts, it should be a colon.)

So wait, if I love looking at women’s bodies so much, and celebrate strong women, shouldn’t I be all for using strong women’s bodies to advertise products aimed at, and designed to support, strong women’s bodies? You bet. I totally am.

Wanna know how? Show strong women. Doing things. And make your ad about their strength, not your sexual fantasies.

Wanna see how? Here ya go. Please pardon the fact that I have no design skills. And for ethical reasons I can only use photos of my own athletes that I took because I have photo releases from them and wouldn’t want to steal someone else’s work. (I don’t generally shoot looking for empty space to put words, so consider this a concept that you’d see in a pitch meeting.)


All Rights Reserved:

If you want to celebrate a woman’s strength, just do that. DIRECTLY. “You look hot” isn’t a compliment. It’s not even about the woman to whom you’re saying it. It’s a thinly veiled way to say “I’d fuck you.” And really, how and who you fuck really isn’t anyone’s business. (And please don’t give some woman that mental  image, unless she specifically asked for it.) If you want to compliment a woman’s strength, do THAT, in a way that is genuine.

Muscles? Yup. Doing something impressive? Yup. Directly complimenting her achievement? Yup. Thinly veiled sexual innuendo that makes her an object rather than a subject? Nope.

This one’s  good to go.

Here are a few more for you:

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You could even do all of these with more scantily clad women, and it would still work. I just don’t happen to have those photos because most of the women in my gym work out with clothes on. But by all means, booty-shorts and sports-bra these things up, and they still work.

These took me all of 15 minutes. This really isn’t hard. But here is a really simple test to see if you are just objectifying a woman’s body in an ad:

  1. Is she doing something other than just winking at the camera?

  2. Is that an actual thing, like lifting a weight? Or is it a fantasy thing, like holding a hose between her legs while eating a cheeseburger on the hood of a car wearing a bunch of vinyl strapping for clothing?

  3. Does your product actually relate to what she is doing?

  4. Are the words in the ad about how your product helps her? Or are they a thinly veiled reference to your kinda wishing you could bone her?

4 simple questions that you have to ask yourself about how you are using a woman’s body in your marketing materials. If you can answer “yes” to all 4, you’re good to go. If not, pullout before you make something you’ll regret.

4 rules to avoid sexist ads


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