Adidas’ Sports Bra Campaign: Should it be banned?

In February, Adidas launched their campaign promoting 43 different sizes of sports bras. The campaign was centred on breast diversity and included a collage of breasts of all shapes and sizes from women of all races and ages alongside the hashtag #Supportiseverything. From this, one might assume that the ‘one size fits all’ days have finally reached their expiration date and that this is a step in the right direction for recognising diversity in female fashion. And yes, Adidas’ campaign tweet has so far received 36,000 likes, suggesting that that number of people support this message.  

However, when it comes to condoning an advert which makes it explicit that sports bras contain real life breasts, it seems that #SupportIsNotEverything and Adidas’ photographic collage of breasts was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) within months of it’s launch. 

Part of the reason for the ban was because the ASA received 24 complaints stating the photography was ‘gratuitous and objectified women by sexualising them and “reducing them to body parts”.’ I am no expert in advertising statistics but 24 complaints compared to 36,000 twitter likes seems to place the breast detractors in a significant minority. Even so, I fail to see how images of nipple-less breasts (the nipples were often pixelated) sexualises women’s bodies and “reduces them to body parts”. The advert is not stating that women are the sum total of their breasts. Adidas merely used photos of breasts to illustrate diversity and difference, and have been accused of sexualisation. In fact, these nipple-pixelated breasts lack any sort of eroticism. They serve a purpose that is to powerfully, realistically convey a message. Women have different shaped and sized breasts and there is nothing sexual about it. There is a difference in TALKING about women’s body parts and SEXUALISING women’s body parts and Adidas’ campaign is certainly not doing the latter. Surely, banning the advert only makes breasts more taboo and increases their sexual significance? It sends the message that we are incapable of celebrating the naked female body for what it is without attaching sexual connotations. 

We certainly do not have this problem when it comes to the nude, or nearly nude, male body. Back in 2014, David Gandy’s M&S underwear campaign triggered an overwhelmingly positive response as he posed in his M&S boxers on the side of buses. Similarly, an E! online article addressing David Beckham’s H&M underwear campaign in 2014 was titled, “Holy Hotness! David Beckham Poses in His Underwear”. These adverts were definitely not banned and I saw many a ‘David Gandy bus’ going up and down my high street for months. These male bodies were being overtly sexualised and objectified and we did not have a problem with this. The sexualisation of these men was essentially the premise of both underwear campaigns and nothing was found wrong with this. These men were being celebrated, praised and adulated for their “hotness”, and rightly so. 

So, are we just more comfortable with male nakedness and selling male underwear? Or, more comfortable with sexualising and objectifying men? I am not sure which is better.

Alongside being accused of sexualising these women, the ASA stated the campaign was ‘likely to cause widespread offence’ because of the ‘explicit nudity’. Adidas took this into consideration when preparing and disseminating their campaign as they purposefully had not put the adverts near religious venues or schools. Again, David Gandy did not seem to have this problem, painlessly rolling up and down the high street, passing my school in his boxers. It is understandable that some religious communities would feel less comfortable with the nudity of the campaign yet, the ASA appears far more concerned about children’s viewing of the advert. 

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but I think that most children would have seen a bare breast without a pixelated nipple since birth. In fact, most children have seen a lot more than a breast with a pixelated nipple. Following the discovery of Neil Parish’s parliamentary porn watching, understanding our country’s pornography epidemic is a much more significant issue than the potential damage Adidas’ breast collage is doing to youth’s psyches. In a 2019 report the BFC discovered that 51% of children between 11-13 have seen pornography, and children as young as seven have come across some sort of pornography. (This includes breasts WITH nipples by the way…). Easily accessible pornography, graphic and often incredibly unsuitable for children, is a much more important concern for those worried about children seeing explicit, sexualised nudity on their ever-accessible phones, tablets or laptops rather than pixelated breasts on a billboard they might momentarily drive past on their way to school. 

Ultimately, Adidas’ advert has shown how the sportswear industry is finally coming to terms with the fact that women NEED different styles and shapes of bra sizes to comfortably play and do sport. It is estimated that around 24% of women have skipped a workout because of their lack of confidence in their sports bra. I can remember occasions at school when myself and girls around me would drop out of sport as soon as our breasts started to appear because we did not know how to navigate a sports world which was not built for breasts and boobs. This should not continue to happen and breasts should not be an impediment or barrier to girl’s and women’s participation in sport. Adidas are recognising and addressing this: “We believe women’s breasts in all shapes and sizes deserve support and comfort”. However, the ASA’s response simply shuts this topic away when it has only just risen to the surface. 

Thanks to Adidas, our breasts are now being supported by the bra yet, it seems that the underwire of public criticism continues to dig in just a little too tightly. 

– Ellen Hodges

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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