A Response to ASICS x Elite Models

A Response to ASICS x Elite Models - A Pretty Place to Play

On Twitter? Follow runners? If you can answer yes to both these questions then you probably know about the latest campaign from ASICS. A collaboration with Elite Model Look, an international modelling competition, it features pale, ethereally pretty and very young models. It’s a bit like watching a school PE class but with better kit and less arguing. Surrounding the images is rhetoric about how Elite models lead active healthy lives, and they’re here to encourage us to do the same.

As I tweeted a few days ago, nothing about this campaign is good. OK, it’s quite nicely shot. But that’s all, and really that’s assumed. Honestly, I’m not really sure where to start picking it all apart. My overarching thought is that the campaign is dull and irrelevant. Companies have always used models in campaigns. They always will. Sometimes you just need a pro to get something done. But typically these models will be athletic. They will look like they’ve hit puberty and workout. Like they might actually run. This lot don’t. As I said, it’s like looking at a bunch of pre-teens in their gym class. Which is confusing and just doesn’t seem to align with ASICS’ inherently athletic branding. I can’t see who the campaign is designed to connect with. But then maybe it’s not meant to connect with anyone? The fast thumbs and disgruntled voices of the running community has got people talking about ASICS. True it’s negative press, yes some people might vote with their feet, but most wont.

A Response to ASICS x Elite Models - A Pretty Place to Play

Beyond being dull and irrelevant, the models in this campaign really are very young. Very very young. So much of the media revolves around youth, but this campaign feels like more or a stretch than normal, and there’s something really uncomfortable about that. Youth is already fetishised in the media, often to the exclusion of diversity, but this pushes the boundary even further than normal.

Looking past their youth, the models in this campaign all look eerily similar. Maybe it’s all the cheekbone. Most likely it’s the dominance of white skin and long sleek hair. There’s the odd exception, but the bodies featured conform to each other so closely it’s hard to see. Campaigns featuring predominantly young, white, thin people simply help perpetuate myths about cosmetic ideals. Not only is this boring (can you see a theme here?!), but also harmful. As long as society continues to preference this narrow profile as the cosmetic ideal people will continue to believe that movement isn’t for them. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

And then there’s the train tracks…but I’ll leave that to Twitter to discuss.

Have you seen this campaign? What are your thoughts?

Feminista Film Festival

Feminista Film Festival - A Pretty Place To Play

According to research from Women in Sport and the Youth Sport Trust, only 56% of girls see being physically active as important, in comparison to 71% of boys. Less than 50% of girls see PE as relevant to their lives, and most troublingly girls appear to start losing interest in physical activity at just seven years old. I don’t know about you, but this absolutely breaks my heart. Not only are we missing out of potential sporting talent, girls are missing out on all the opportunities that being active can bring them. The boost of confidence, the hormones than make you feel good, the camaraderie of being in a team and that moment away from all the other pressures of the world.

So how do you stop girls losing interest? From thinking that sport isn’t for them? Academics at Canterbury Christ Church University have suggested that identifying and encouraging more female role models in sport could help prove to girls that physical activity is just as relevant to their lives as it is to their male peers. It’s a bit simplistic, but I do believe you can’t be what you can’t see. If girls don’t see women achieving in sport, how do they know that physical activity is for them?

Feminista Film Festival - A Pretty Place To Play

However, as research has widely acknowledged, there’s a real shortage of female role models in physical activity at all levels, whether it’s professional, grass roots or performance sports, as well as coaching, teaching and in sports science and management. In fact, there were no women in recent lists of the top 100 highest paid athletes. The thing is, it’s not like there aren’t women out there doing amazing things. There really are. The issue is making women in sport visible. Telling women’s stories and creating those role models. That’s where documentary film making comes in. I love documentaries, they allow complex stories to be told in creative and engaging ways. A great documentary captures your imagination and inspires you to do more, go further. Documentaries are inspirational and empowering. Yep, it’s not mass media coverage or insane sponsorship deals (both things I could talk about for hours, there’s some complex relationships going down there), but it’s a start.

Feminista Film Festival - A Pretty Place To Play

Feminista Film Festival is a three-day film festival from 28-30 September which uses the power of documentary film to celebrate female athletes and artists. The aim of the festival is to increase visibility of women in sport and the arts by creating a platform to tell their stories on screen. More information, full programme details and tickets can be found here

There are so many amazing films on the programme. From the deeply powerful ‘The War To Be Here’ where young Maria Toorpakai defies the rules of the Taliban controlled area of Waziristan by disguising herself as a boy, so she can play sport freely, to the inspriational ‘The Mirnavator’ that explores the psychological side of ultra running. Plus, the whole of Saturday is devoted to family-friendly films, perfect for those girls in your life that might not think movement, physical activity and sport are for them. Film is powerful, and while this might not be the biggest festival, or the most well known, it’s quietly making waves so that one day all girls and boys will believe that physical activity is important.

*images via Feminista Film Festival


Marathon Bodies

A Pretty Place to Play Marathon Bodies

What does a marathon runner look like? Do you need to be a certain shape or size to run a marathon? What does your size say about your health? How to people react when they see bodies that aren't what they associate with the bodies of marathon runners? How do people react when those bodies are female? 

These are all questions I've been pondering over the last week or so after seeing some of the comments made about writer Bryony Gordon and model Jada Sezer after they'd run London Marathon in their undies. Bryony and Jada are both women with bums and boobs. Their middles are soft and their thighs touch. When it comes to running marathons they know exactly what they're doing. Bryony ran London last year, Jada was inspired to run by Bryony and they were both coached by Tim Weeks, who's a legend. They owned those 26.2 miles and I now want them to be my running buddies, because they look like they had A LOT of fun. Which what running is all about. 

Back to my point. Bryony and Jada was running in their undies to make an important statement - movement is for everyone, irrespective of their shape, size, colour or gender, and healthy comes in a multitude of packages. While these women got a lot of support, there was also some interesting criticism, which I want to dissect. Because I'm a nerd like that. 

Scrolling absentmindedly through Instagram while waiting for a tube I noticed that a picture of Bryony and Jada (the one above) had been shared by @runningterritory, which is one of those accounts that reposts pictures of inspiring runners (who are often impossibly toned). It was the comments on the picture that caught my eye. Comments that, initially, overwhelmingly focused on Bryony and Jada's size, with suggestions that it wasn't 'healthy' for them to run a marathon, and assumptions that they must have walked (a mean feat in itself, 26.2 miles is a bloody long way to walk). The tone was nasty and judgemental. The next day I was, once again, scrolling through Instagram and I came across another picture posted to a similar profile, this time it was of a man (the image below). This man was similar in build to Bryony and Jada, and was running with no top on, but instead of being critical, the initial comments on the post were positive and encouraging. It was this difference that got me thinking - why do people respond differently to images of men and women who are, to all intents and purposes, doing the same thing? 

A Pretty Place To Play Marathon Bodies

I'm a mega nerd about cultural ideology and sport, and in particular my area of interest is around images and identities of female runners. I could talk for days on the subject. But I won't. You can read my thesis for that. However, my interpretation of this issue is that it comes down to the ideas society has about how women should behave. Bryony and Jada are radical, they're disrupting social norms by refusing to conform to traditional notions of femininity. Although more women are running longer (and longer) distances, until relatively recently the marathon was off limits, and research I carried out last year suggests that women participate in endurance running only with 'male permission', making efforts to conform to the existing culture. It's radical to run a marathon as a woman. It’s really radical to run a marathon on your own terms. Likewise, women are fed a million messages that remind them that in order to be feminine they need to be sexually appealing, and that to be sexually appealing their bodies need to conform to certain beauty standards. Bryony and Jada are both mega sexy, but they don't necessarily meet the stringent beauty standards that are imposed once radical women step out of line. Cultural ideology works hard to maintain a status quo that favours men, which is why our topless male friend didn't necessarily receive the same critical response. By disrupting the perceptions of women - showing that they cannot only run marathons, and also that they can do it without being thin - Bryony and Jada have challenged this ideology. When ideology is challenged people push back, in this case with bitchy comments. Bitchy comments that men don't receive. 

A Pretty Place To Play marathon Bodies

In the end lots of people sent support to Bryony and Jada, and there is an overwhelming sense of awe at what they've achieved (seriously, can I run with you? You look like fun!), but this imbalance goes to show just how much more work is needed. So take inspiration and get disruptive, the more Bryony and Jada's there are in the world, the sooner our culture will change.

*Photos primarily nabbed from Bryony's Instagram profile.