One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident


Body Diversity in Athletic Wear Ads — Where is it?

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I’m seeing  Under Armour‘s new ad campaign with Gisele Bündchen everywhere. My own ad network has even been running it here on Roni’s Weigh.

I kind of like the underlying message “I Will What I Want” —  although it took me a minute to get it — but when will these athletic wear companies start showing some body diversity besides “skinny?”

This is the same reason I don’t even bother looking at Athleta catalogs anymore.

Look, Gisele is awesome! She has an amazing career and I admire any woman who goes after what she wants. She’s a 34-year-old mom and one of the highest paid models in the world. There’s no doubt she’s a force to be reckoned with.

This post is not about Gisele.

I have a hard time categorizing myself as an athlete but damn I’m active. I run, I lift, I workout 6 days a week. I wear athletic clothes more than anything in my wardrobe.

I don’t look like Gisele — never will — and that’s why I find it hard to relate to most athletic clothing lines.

Am I not their target demographic?

Then again, maybe I’m just too old??

I get it. Athletic companies use models. They are selling an image, but am I the only one who thinks the public is ready for some body diversity? Athletes are short and tall. They can have really broad shoulders, thicker thighs and wide waists. Athletes are not models. An athlete eats for performance not to look good in a pair of capris for a photo shoot. Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good in a pair of capris, but if all we see in these ads are female “athletes” who have tiny frames and barely any muscle or curves, then aren’t we projecting an image that only represents a small sliver of what athletic woman actually look like?

And here’s the rub: I can actually fit in their clothing! So really I don’t have anything to complain about. Many athletic lines don’t make anything over an extra-large or even a large for that matter — like every woman who works out falls in a range between 0 and 6.

Maybe I’m being over sensitive but I really find it discouraging that these big brands just keep perpetrating a single female form. Like we can all just be carbon copies of each other if we ate a little less and worked out more.

Of course this doesn’t only go for athletic wear. That just happens to be what set me off this morning. I think I’m finally callous to the fashion brands doing this but as someone who is identifying as an athlete later in life, I don’t think I expected it in athletic clothing because famous female athletes naturally have different body types. Think about gymnasts vs. tennis players vs. Olympic lifters vs. runners. I mean look at all these female athletes! (Click on image to expand)

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 3.19.26 PM

That picture was from this Huffington Post article about the book Athlete by Howard Schatz. Isn’t it amazing? And SO inspiring!

I guess I assumed athletic wear companies would be more diverse naturally. Yet for some reason athletic lines seem to only focus on that same prototypical female shape.

I know there are some who think body diversity is just another way to make fat acceptable but it runs so much deeper than that. Seeing the same body shape over and over again is not only depressing, it’s boring. Regardless of how much extra fat a person carries around, human bodies are simply diverse.

This has been bugging me for some time and seeing Gisele plastered everywhere just got me thinking about it again. I was going to blog about it after getting the last Athleta catalog, which I paged through and then immediately threw away. All of their models had the same exact body type. I found it really discouraging.

Sure, we can all learn to have a little thicker skin and not let the media portrayal of female bodies get to us, but the more we talk about, the more we expose it, the more difference it can make. Right?

This open letter gives me hope. :)

P.S. When I proofread this post Gisele’s ad was right below. Is it still there? It kind of cracked me up.

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There are 18 comments so far.


    September 22, 2014

    ? Really? Your staged naivete and faux outrage are fully unconvincing. As you said (and then continued to blab anyway), they. Are. MODELS. The clothing looks best on a certain body type. The clothing sells best when displayed on a certain body type. The body type happens to be tall and very slender.

    Manufacturers and advertisers are not interested in showing everyday or diverse women; they put their clothes on what are basically breathing mannequins, and then they pull and pin and tuck and fit the clothing to that model in a way that it looks perfect but will NEVER fit an actual moving person, and then they edit and photoshop the images (or tweak the video) and they sell a product.

    How many times are you and every other blogger going to make this tired pitch to see “real women” in ads? Trust me: they spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours researching what women want to see in advertising and NO ONE WANTS TO SEE REALITY. FFS, the mannequins in Lane Bryant replicate a 5’8″, 150 pound woman who is FAR TOO SMALL to wear even LB’s smallest size…because even fat women don’t want to see fat models. They want to see their size 24 outfit on a size 10 mannequin and think “I’m going to look like that in these pants and this shirt!”

    And you, despite your repeated protests, really do not want to see how those lycra boy shorts look on a middle-aged fit woman whom, despite a great diet and daily workouts, has some cellulite and a stubborn roll of belly fat that will never go away without surgery. That image does not sell clothes, not even to the woman like you or me who IS a fit, middle aged mom whose body bears the road map of life.

    Advertising has never reflected real life or real people, since the advent of the industry over a hundred years ago. Companies are not in the business of making you feel ADEQUATE…they are in the business of making you think you need what they have and that the thing they have will make you adequate.


      September 22, 2014

      ok, so why can’t I talk about it. Why can’t I use my little corner of cyberspace to show an image of diverse woman and share my opinion? What is your problem with this? If you are so tired of it then stop reading blogs and keep digesting traditional media.

      I’m not in the business of writing what you may or may not want me to write. I saw the ad, I was responded. It’s why I have a blog in the first place.

      You are welcome to your opinion and me to mine but research does show when women see pictures of other women with a range of bodies they get more comfortable with the varying sizes. I’m not saying it’s the job of advertisers to make us feel good. I’m saying we as consumers can voice our concerns. We can continue to talk about it because the more we do the more it may change. And it is changing.

      I’ll keep my naive views, thank you very much. You can think it’s staged or faked or whatever. I’d rather be naive than a bitter commenter that thinks they know what everyone else wants.


      September 22, 2014

      Marliene, the first time that I read what you wrote, I chalked it up to a negative internet basher. But the more that I have thought about it, the more I realize that this is just your opinion. I am a 34 year old woman, no kids, and by far in no way perfect. I am very similar to the average American woman. I don’t write a blog, I am not a blogger. I enjoy reading blogs and very rarely comment. I want to make it very clear that this is not a personal attack. I just hope that this is something that you think about.

      As I said before, you are entitled to your own opinion. But please speak for yourself. I don’t feel the way that you feel, and I don’t feel the way that apparently advertisers have me pegged to feel. I do want to see women who have muscle displaying active gear. I honestly don’t mind if a woman has a roll. And in saying this, I am not speaking for you; please don’t speak for me or anyone else. Just concern yourself with you and what you want. You will find that it makes you a lot happier.


      September 22, 2014

      As abrasively as this comment was worded, there is a lot of truth in it.

      I really don’t care to see diversity in advertising. No, I’ll never look like Giselle. I’m short and petite and mostly torso. But the clothing looks better on Giselle, and that’s what I want to see when I buy it.


      September 22, 2014

      That’s cool. And I’m not saying there’s should be no Gisele’s I just think it would be really cool if Gisele was standing, say, next to Serena Williams and a gymnast or a wrestler. Unlike the original commenter, I’m ready for the diversity is advertising. It makes me happy to see a variety of sizes. Plus the more we see it the less weird it will become. Just my opinion, of course.


      September 23, 2014

      I disagree with you about what women want to see. I admit, when I look at an Athleta ad, it’s nice to see the pretty models showing the clothes at their “best”, whatever that means. But, I’ll be honest, what I REALLY want is to see how the clothes will look and feel on someone with a body more similar to mine. I have actually searched the internet for bloggers who show pictures of themselves in their new clothes (if it’s an item that I’m thinking of purchasing) to see what they look like on real bodies. I do this ALL THE TIME. So, yes, the sleek, glossy images are what gets you in the store, but MANY of us are searching for images that look like us, too. Hell, Zappos uses models of several different shapes and sizes, and I have bought things from them on occasion that I never would have considered because of how it looked on their “plus sized” model. (Who I admit, is not very plus sized, but who at least looks quite a bit like me with similar measurements)


      September 23, 2014

      Wow what a very rude way to share an opinion!!

      I for one would like to see more variety when it comes to women’s images in the media in general. I don’t buy magazines any more because all the images just make me feel crap about my very far from “perfect” body rather than make me think I “need what they have”. I already know what they have won’t make my body perfect.


    September 22, 2014

    Ignore that other lady’s comment. Who does she think she is, really? She acts like she knows what’s going through the minds of every person on the planet and that’s bullshit. It’s your blog and you (and I) have every right not to like the way that clothing..etc…is advertised.

    I am overweight and have been working hard to lose. I would love it if there was nice athletic wear for plus size people. We workout too, ya know?


    September 22, 2014

    There are some lines expressly for plus sized women but a lot of them are awful. Really baggy and dull. Listen, I may have a big caboose but that doesn’t mean I need a workout top to go down to my knees to “camouflage” it. I wear some of the more popular brands, when they’re cut more generously, but when their “extra large” is a size 12 it’s insulting. Lane Bryant has a new activewear line that uses somewhat larger models, and their stuff is cute, but I’d love to see Reebok or Nike use more athletic models.


    September 23, 2014

    I don’t agree with Marilene’s comment. I understand her point and it’s obvious that advertisers want their product to look amazing and therefore try to sell them by using models with the perfect body type but I don’t think all women (who for the most part are NOT models) want to see ONLY that body type. I live in Europe and here advertisements are all about the perfect female body type and I have to say I’m quite sick of it…. In the States I know they use more plus sized models. Show reality not barbie photoshopped pictures of women who aren’t real. And I don’t want to get off track but I also think all this perfection in advertisements is ruining the images that young girls have of themselves.


    September 23, 2014

    I rarely comment on blogs but had to speak up here. I read your blog every day and so much of what you say gives voice to what I wish I could articulate myself. I hate the fact that every corner of our society seems to equate healthy with skinny. It has hurt me personally and taken up so much of my energy to try and unlearn the messages I’ve been given (implicitly and explicitly): that my value as a woman is in my looks; that to be beautiful is to be skinny; therefore that unless I’m skinny I don’t hold value (not to mention the assumptions that if you’re not skinny you are lazy, inactive or don’t try hard enough. I am healthy. I am active. I am fit. But I am not skinny and I never will be. I had the realization when I trained for my first full marathon that I was mostly doing it because I thought it would transform my body into one of those skinny runner body types. I had another small epiphany when I cut out sugar, flour and alcohol and started doing CrossFit in order to lose weight for my wedding. I looked and felt amazing on my wedding day-but I still wasn’t skinny. It is damaging to women and girls to only show one image of what it means to be a healthy, beautiful woman. I have battled with my own body image for most of my life and I am determined to help my daughter see how different beauty, health and athleticism can look on different bodies.

    Thank you for writing this blog post. Thank you for speaking for so many people in sharing your own story. This thread almost makes me want to write to Under Armor!

    Maria B

    September 23, 2014

    Amen, Roni.


    September 23, 2014

    I have to admit that I can’t tell many of the famous models and actresses apart. They are just too similar in looks. I guess this is good if I am supposed to look at the clothes and not be distracted by the model. Honestly I find a lot of advertising boring and I really don’t get that pose with hands on hips and stomach caved in like you just got punched. Get that woman to a hospital!
    If your really an athlete you probably want clothes that do the job. I am going to look for something recommended or worn by athletes I identify with. If I am mostly a fashionista and an athlete on the side then I fear I am going to be buying a lot of super cute outfits that don’t do the job and hopefully eventually I will learn to shop smarter.

    Martha Glantz

    September 23, 2014

    I couldn’t agree more! Why do magazines feel the need to photoshop everyone??? And lots of different body shapes wear these clothes and work out. And it annoys me to see size 12 women modeling plus size clothes. Why do designers design for a size 0 that represents a small percentage of women. I workout, and feel pretty fit, and will not only never look like these models. Guess this is modern advertising. Sigh.


    September 24, 2014

    In 2010 a very popular German fashion magazine went model-free. They used amateurs instead of professionals for their photo spreads. I loved it. The women were so unique, so real and yes, after the make-up artists, hair dressers, fashion stylists and professional photographers were done with them they looked absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately the concept was reconsidered three years later. But that’s another story. I also love the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. I personally find the women portrayed there very beautiful. So here is another woman who wants to see more real women in marketing campaigns. Greetings from Germany!!!


    September 25, 2014

    It seems as though this is a common thread of annoyance…body types shown in athletic apparel. To someone who doesn’t see the same annoyances it sort of seems like kicking a dead horse. Different ad, same complaints. I don’t have annoyances with this, mine are more about Victoria secret catalogs because I have 4 kids who I don’t need/want looking at ads I feel are more sexual than necessary to sell underwear…even though I wear their underwear, I throw away the catalogs. Seeing athletic models wearing athletic clothing isn’t too upsetting to me but to each his own…the beauty of your own blog. It does seem like it comes up a lot though…maybe Marliene is showing a different view of the situation. Her view made sense to me probably because I don’t find them annoying.


      September 25, 2014

      Oh I hear you on the Victoria Secret thing. Like I need my boys seeing half naked woman in the mall. How are you supposed to raise them not to think woman are objects when it’s everywhere you turn?!

      Anyway, my argument isn’t seeing athletic models it’s seeing the same skinny, thin, almost non-athletic model wearing athletic clothing. Of course it’s the same argument that’s been thrown about for years, I just felt compelled to write about it. The funny thing is I totally see Marliene’s point, she just didn’t have to be so jerky about it. Her same argument about me complaining about the models I could make about her complaining about my complaining! How many times are we going to bash a blogger who uses their blog to write about something that’s important to them? It’s their blog. They can write about whatever they want! Just like the advertisers can use whatever models they want.

      Ahh the circle of life.

    Joy @

    September 28, 2014

    It is so important to talk about but it’s also key that it influences our buying decisions. I totally boycotted lulu lemon after some of their size discrimination and negative attitudes toward nonskinny bodies came to light. I, for one, appreciate you pointing it out because it makes me more aware and helps inform my choices. I don’t see Giselle here in an ad, by the way. Does anyone know of an athletic wear brand that celebrates and embraces body size diversity? Let’s buy that stuff instead.