The WTA has launched its new advertising campaign: Strong is Beautiful.
And the NYT ran an article about said campaign.
Let me note first that this is not a post with one coherent point or thesis. It is largely a collection of musings about the campaign.
First, strong is beautiful. I said that the other day when writing about Sam Stosur.
But is strong alone beautiful? Probably not if you look at the WTA campaign. Makeup and flowy dresses or bandeau bras which reveal a lot of skin are featured in the ad campaign (which consists of several themed videos and still photos). Many of the players were not recognizable to me. In part this is because I have not been following women’s tennis as closely in the past year or so. So the newcomers are not as familiar to me. But I do know who Dominika Cibulkova is and I have seen her play–in Paris actually when I went to the French Open a couple of years ago. And I would never have guessed, from her picture in the campaign, who she was.
Last year a similar campaign came from the WTA–it was called “Women who Hit Hard”–and the current campaign still includes some of those photos and videos (like the one of Kim Clijsters). And at the emergence of that campaign Dr. Nicole Lavoi over at One Sport Voice got a lot of crap for calling the campaign soft core porn. And though I didn’t agree with that exact characterization, it wasn’t hard to see the problematics aspects of the campaign (which was also featured in the NYT). But I thought of Dr. Lavoi’s analysis when I saw the picture of Gisela Dulko in which she kind of looks like a dominatrix. And given my cynical nature, I have a problem believing that the producers are completely unaware of that.
I do appreciate the use of many different players, including Marion Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova who do not have the traditionally beautiful feminine bodies (like say Victoria Azarenka has).
And I was really shocked to see the photo of Francesca Schiavone which, upon first glance, made me think I was looking at a slighter Rafael Nadal. She appeared very masculine in the photo. So I was pleasantly surprised the WTA included it. Are they throwing us queer gals a bone with that one? Are they seeing that this isn’t just all about the male gaze?
Maybe. Maybe not. WTA CEO Stacy Allaster said that women’s tennis is forging ahead despite the poor economy. She announced that two new multimillion dollar sponsorships are forthcoming. Are they selling these beautiful but strong players to sponsors so they can sell them to us? Probably. Will it work. Hmm….
One final thing. One of the 30-second spots is called Sugar and Spice and follows the childhood rhyme about what little girls are made of. Caroline Wozniacki does the voiceover and adds that things like sweat, fury, and grit are also what little girls are made of. One of the ad execs on the campaign said the commercial subverts the sugar and spice construction.
I don’t really see that. It’s more additive than subversive. And it’s a little bit mandatory: you have to be all these things: sweet and spicy and strong and gritty. Let’s note that this version of womanhood is largely constructed on a white, Western, middle class woman (yes, I know Serena Williams and Li Na are both featured in the campaign–but their presence alone does not negate the dominant message which is geared toward a white, Western, middle (to upper) class audience).