In a new series of provocative ads, Reebok tells women in no uncertain terms what other apparel companies often only suggest under the guise of empowerment: that exercising in the company’s new shoe will make them more sexually desirable to men. One features only a shot of a woman’s breasts “talking” about the woman’s now toned backside — which came courtesy of the shoes. The slogan: “Make your boobs jealous.” Another features a woman talking about the shoes, only to have the camera leave her face when she bends over to lace them up and pan down to her backside, akin to a pair of roving male eyes. Focusing only on a woman’s breasts, or positioning the camera to resemble wandering eyes are what media scholars call the camera’s “male gaze,” a concept that suggests patriarchal power relationships are reproduced through mediated images.
In Reebok’s ads, women are reduced to a series of body parts and rewarded for appealing to the camera’s eye. The (male) camera tells women that exercising will make them objects of male desire. When women began playing organized sports in the early 1900s, critics said sports made women too manly; today Reebok tells women that exercise will make them more desirable. The message may be slightly different, but the end goal of appealing to men is the same. These new Reebok ads, then, are nothing new at all. Rather, they are part of a centuries-old narrative that polices women’s bodies to the benefit and pleasure of men, while denying women a space to find their own motivation for engaging in sports and other forms of exercise.