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Women’s Bodies, CrossFit & Advertising

August 25, 2014

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:

All Rights Reserved:

All Rights Reserved:


All Rights Reserved:

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

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2014 11:00 am

    “Pull out before you make something you’ll regret” *giggles*

    I totally agree. Your ads would encourage me, Tami would not. I once saw something tenuously related in a meme. It showed scantily clad full face of make up ladies in barely there American football outfits next to a picture of a British female rugby team. The meme basically said something along the lines of “female American football players are sexy, female rugby players are ugly. My point to the person who sent me was “let’s play them against each other and see who wins at the actual games because I doubt those ‘American football’ girls play any serious version of the sport” I wasn’t impressed by a bunch of girls looking slutty in a pic, I WAS impressed by a team of sportswomen who have actually won championships and trophies.

  2. August 25, 2014 11:08 am

    Reblogged this on Not so Magical Adventures and commented:
    This is a great article about marketing and what NOT to do. Do not use images that are inappropriate and do not convey the message you want. Great article.

  3. August 26, 2014 12:44 am


  4. August 26, 2014 12:48 am

    Well.. apparently I accidentally hit send before I got through my train of thought there!

    Agreed! I follow a lot of inspirational women on Instagram etc. but it’s becoming irritating to see them flaunting themselves about for no other reason than to receive comments like ‘OMG ur so hot’ [sic] – or something much more lewd and embarrassing. It’s sad because these women are doing it to themselves, while at least the woman in your example above didn’t have any idea how her image was being used (I’d hope). Like you say, it’s really not hard to do something worthwhile with an inspirational image, it’s just pure laziness not to.

  5. August 26, 2014 2:10 am

    Reblogged this on Friendly Cove Farm and commented:
    Am still on a bit of an anger rush regarding the treatment of women within the Irish culture. This is a really simple essay. I love it, love it, love it!!!!!!!

  6. August 26, 2014 2:11 am

    Awesome – thanks for sharing! So clear and simple, shows exactly how little things have changed.

  7. August 26, 2014 10:41 am

    I love this! The phrase “sex sells” has truly become a benchmark in successful marketing. Advertisers link sexualized images of young, thin female bodies to tangible products in hopes of establishing a correlation between being skinny and being deemed socially and physically appealing. “Strong women. Doing things” is motivating not unrealistic and often fabricated versions of the typical woman’s body.

  8. emlor24 permalink
    August 27, 2014 11:28 am

    Love this hard.

  9. Alyssa Royse permalink
    August 31, 2014 6:03 am

    The saga continues. It’s so amusing to me. FitAID contacted me again – with the same stupid photo in the email, and I asked them to please not contact me again. I explained why and linked to this article, in case they wanted to really grok it. Then, 2 days later, AGAIN, only someone had taken the time to change the sender’s name from “Tami” to “Tamara 🙂 ” With a smiley face. I again told them that they were wasting their time and to please delete us from their database. It’s sad and amusing. Now, on to finding drinks that don’t use women’s bodies as fishing lures.


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