Monday, October 14, 2013

Women sweat

You know pisses me off? Well, aside from the many things I've posted about on here, this ad pisses me off;



Look, I know this ad is old now (it was released in July), but as you may have noticed I've been wholly without words lately, so allow me this indulgence it talking about what a disgrace this advertisement is. Also, I saw a full-page ad for this product in a magazine today.

Basically, what I want to say is fuck you marketing.

Fuck you marketing for saying that while it's good to be active and sweaty, you should only sweat in apparently invisible ways. That you should only sweat in certain places. That you should only sweat if it doesn't draw attention to your body. Especially to your lady parts!

This stupid ad hits me on a personal level, because for a long time, I felt this way. I mean, I would totally have bought into this ad. For most of my childhood and adolescence I did ballet. I did ballet for 14 years from when I was about 3. I'm absolutely terrible at it, but I did it and I loved it. But doing ballet for that long had a pretty big impact on how I felt about my body and how I believed my body should move and be presented. It wasn't until I started surfing and martial arts that I was able to come to love sweating, to learn that it's okay to be ugly when you move, and that every movement I make doesn't have to be beautiful.

For example, in ballet you have to be strong and resilient and technically perfect and endure quite a lot of pain. And while you do all of this, it is imperative that you make it look effortless and as aesthetically pleasing as possible. I still often hear my ballet teacher's voice in my ear telling me how to stand or look - everything needed to be fixed! For example, here are things I needed to remember when standing in third position at the barre, with one arm out in second. (I was going to find an image to put here, but I can't find one I like so just think of a person standing, holding a bar with one arm outstretched.)

Rebecca! Turn your feet out, your knees out. Tuck your hips under. Drop your shoulders. Lift your elbow. Extend through your fingers. Raise your chin, relax your jaw, soften your gaze. 

These are technical points, yes, but they were not meant to improve the function of the movement. Instead they met a kind of technical aestheticism: a ballet-way of looking pleasing.

Don't get me wrong, I loved dance classes and I wouldn't give a single one back. They have had a profound impact on my life and I constantly draw on the things I learned about body awareness and a love for really getting the technicality of a movement. But like I said, everything was up for improvement. Everything needed to be particularly placed. Nothing was ever quite lovely enough. And like I also said, I'm not exactly the most elegant or most graceful person, so I wasn't very good at it. But years of comment on my posture and body positioning are bound to have an impact. And they did. I went through life worrying that I wasn't being pleasing enough to the way other people saw me. No, I'm being serious. I worried about not having perfectly extended fingers. I constantly worried that my posture wasn't very good (it's now very good). And I really did worry that I might be caught sweating because, well, I didn't think that was very pleasing to the eye.

But then I started hapkido and I dare you to do it without sweating! As we trained and kicked and punched and spun and jumped and tumbled and sparred we wore thick cotton uniforms, which by the end of the class would be soaked through. My hair would be wet and plastered to my head and I would be wiping drips of liquid from the corners of my eyes and the tip of my nose. And I loved it. I found it thrilling and freeing. At the same time, as this I started surfing - a learning activity that strips you of any dignity or aesthetics in your efforts for a surprising amount of time. I was salty and sandy and burned and cut and grazed and bruised and water-logged and exposed and red-eyed and exhausted. And I loved and found that thrilling too.

And never, in either of those physical activities, has anyone ever told me that my sweaty body was vulgar or offensive or a problem that needed to be solved. Never! Not once! Because its none of those things. Sweating when you exercise or do a physical activity is simply a part of being active. I love when I finish my classes and I'm sweaty and a mess (like in my last post). It makes me feel as though I've done something!

Of course, I understand that this ad is marketing for a product this company is trying to sell. They have to give us a reason to buy it - I do understand that. But just as is their aim, ads like this impact us. I've previously written about the moment when I realised that I was/still am the panicky woman in the cleaning ads - that I bought into them. So what really gets me is the way this kind of marketing is a part of the bigger picture of the ways we treat women as active people, as sportspeople, as athletes. The expectations we place on their bodies in terms of what they should look like as they do sport. For example, once a student told me - and this is not a word of a lie - that it's a good thing women don't play five sets in grand slam tennis because "who would want to look at a woman after she's played five sets?" (I was so proud when another student jumped in and commented that the guys don't look that crash hot after five sets and that that wasn't really the point of the game anyway, was it?) To be fair, this is the only guy I have ever heard give a shit about whether a woman doing sport sweats or not. Actually, I have never heard any guy comment on this. Ever. I just don't want you to think I'm saying this is a guy thing, because I don't think it is. I think it's a making-women-afraid-of-dumb-things thing. I mean, in this ad, its the judgement of the other women they're worried about. It's dumb.

Advertisements and comments like this silly student's suggest that women can't be confident of what we are doing if we have unsightly body hair, or an un-madeup face, or as in this case, sweaty 'patches'. We can't be confident because what if people around us are offended by those things? I mean, by all means sweat, but don't let anyone see you do it!! And by all means, wax and pluck and makeup and adorn before you exercise if that is your wish. Go for it. But women shouldn't have to feel as though they must worry about such things. They should simply be enjoying whatever it is they are doing, because running and swimming and sparring and dancing and jumping and kicking and surfing feel amazing. And it's great if you can make them look aesthetically pleasing and effortless, but in terms of how you feel when you are doing them - what you are worrying about as you run and swim and dance and kick and surf - whether or not someone thinks you look sweaty should be very, very, very, very, very low down the list.

And marketers totally suck for making this into something that they want us to think even needs to be considered.

(The whole thing reminds of this Mitchell and Webb clip:)

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