A few months ago, this writer saw one of FitBit’s advertisements while gorging herself on some trashy television. As she sat in the darkness of her micro-apartment waiting for this episode of Law & Order: SVU or The Mindy Project to continue, an ad which related to her very own FitBit Zip came up.
The ad series, of which there are probably about five differing videos to promote the company, focuses on the message “Find Your Fit.” With this message in mind, the creative team behind the ad decided that the ad should be as follows: various people from all around the world, young and old, of all genders, of many ethnicities, participating in high, medium and low-intensity activities, whether that be taking two steps at a time on the way to your train or kissing your significant other while you’re simultaneously powerlifting.
The ad, at a semi-normal length of 30 seconds, has a catchy tune, flashy images, and laughing faces—not entirely what you expect when you start a new journey into weight loss. And, yet, the ads (one of which is linked here) have millions of views online. How is that even possible?
Because we are sick and tired of seeing only one type of athlete, one type of exercise, and one path.
Athletes come in all shapes, sizes, genders, heights, and ethnicities. It’s difficult to remember that come every Olympics, when you’re actually given a broad spectrum of what an athlete can be defined as, because of how the media portrays what is “good” and “bad” in terms of exercise and fitness. We nearly constantly see an idealized version of what a “fit” man and woman should be. For one, a man should have a six pack, be able to bench-press his own weight or higher, and have bulging muscles while still being slim. A woman, on the other hand, shouldn’t have noticeable muscles, but rather a flat stomach and a thigh gap.
These are the messages received growing up pretty much anytime before now. They are damaging and ludicrous to teach to children, teenagers, and young adults who are just beginning to understand their own bodies.
Luckily, with companies like FitBit coming to the forefront to show in their advertising that “fit” doesn’t have a singular definition, things are changing for the better. Many other companies have followed in FitBit’s wake, including Nike. There are two 2015 commercials that strike a chord here, in terms of showing the depth of fitness.
The first, titled “Inner Thoughts” from the Better for It ad series, shows a bunch of women in different scenarios—all of which they don’t come into with an open mind. The first woman we see is in a cycling class, where she’s excited to get a middle seat—that is, until a group of “models” comes in to sit in front of her. Another woman is doubting the benefits of her yoga class, while yet another seems ill-prepared for her half-marathon. Yet, as we continue to watch the 70 second clip and see more of each of these women’s stories bloom, they all feel accomplished for completing the task in front of them. The ad ends with a voice-over, stating: “Let’s go again.” These women have all managed to do what they were initially worried about—as we all seem to be when we first get started on being healthy—and prove that their accomplishment makes them only want to push themselves farther. How can that be anything other than motivating?
The second Nike ad is not femme focused, but still proves that an athlete can prove himself to be great, even if he’s not what you initially pictured when thinking “football” or “basketball” player. The ad is titled “Short A Guy,” and, if you choose to believe in this magical world of sports, the main character, a young male teenager, is asked throughout the 90-second commercial to help out varied teams to make up for their missing player. In the process, he goes from playing for a basketball team of teenagers like himself to being coached by Mia Hamm on a soccer field (with the other teams being a 10K running team, a baseball team, a sumo-wrestling team, a beach volleyball team, a lacrosse team, a football team, and then back to the court). When we’ve been conditioned to only associate a person with a sport based on their physical characteristics (i.e., tall=basketball, fat=sumo-wrestling), it’s delightful to see the sports corporation set those assumptions aside and make a fantastic commercial, with the help of some notable athletes, of course.
Yet, the glitz and glamour of using professional athletes in your commercials isn’t entirely necessary to prove that fitness is important for all people. Sport England (previously known as the English Sports Council) recently launched a national campaign titled “This Girl Can” with the help of other organizations. On the specified website for the campaign, Sport England defines their purpose as being “a celebration of active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look, or even how red their face gets.” In their commercial, titled after the campaign and running 90 seconds long, they prove just that—we see women doing zumba, swimming, running, all while letting it all hang loose. There’s cellulite, there are wrinkles, there’s sweat…but there’s also hard work and determination to live a better life. Plus, the background music is Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On”—there’s no way you can’t enjoy this commercial.
All in all, each of these commercials and their respective companies proves what we all already know: there’s no singular definition to an athlete, so we have to represent that fact as such in media representations of athletes. It’s difficult to pick a favorite of all of these excellent examples of advertising, so why even try to choose? That would be like picking a singular definition, wouldn’t it.
Stay active, readers, and don’t let doubt cloud your path to health and fitness!