X Close

Team GB rugby’s body confidence advert sexualises women

An ill-conceived advert can do more harm than good. Credit: Bluebella

July 3, 2024 - 4:00pm

Lingerie label Bluebella has just launched a new version of its #StrongIsBeautiful advertising campaign, featuring Team GB Rugby Sevens players Jasmine Joyce, Celia Quansah and Ellie Boatman, scantily clad in transparent peek-a-boo bras and suspenders. It turns out that, even if you are a female international rugby player, it still matters whether you look pretty on the pitch.

The campaign is, supposedly, designed to encourage young girls not to drop out of sport. This is a genuine and concerning issue: by age 14, only 10% of girls achieve the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended levels of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and almost half of girls who would have considered themselves “sporty” disengage from sport following primary school.

However, it’s unclear how showcasing powerful, capable athletes in their underwear — rather than, say, celebrating their skills, tactics and teamwork in the game for which they are actually known — addresses any of the reasons why girls’ participation in sport drops off so sharply at the onset of puberty. Studies show that the main reasons holding girls back from playing sports are a fear of feeling judged by others (68%), lack of confidence (61%), self-consciousness about others watching them (73%), and other clothing and body image concerns (70%). How on earth, then, is a lingerie photoshoot — that will inevitably invite judgement from others, and almost definitely a few unsavoury comments — meant to persuade young girls to pursue a more active lifestyle?

Some may argue that we should be celebrating a fashion brand using more athletic or muscular models as a way of showcasing different body types and promoting body positivity. The problem with this logic, and the logic of the body positivity movement in general, is it simply reaffirms the idea that our value and self-esteem should be dependent on our looks. What is important here is that these women consider themselves beautiful, not their physical strength, resilience, or skills.

Herein lies the ultimate paradox of the body positivity movement: it gives women and young girls the freedom to love their bodies, but it doesn’t give them freedom from thinking about them altogether. Telling them to celebrate their appearance doesn’t remove it from its pedestal, and whether they are berating or parading their insecurities, they are still hyper-fixating on their appearance. Instead, why aren’t there more ad campaigns pushing for body neutrality? Should we not be telling young girls that no one cares if they get hot and sweaty, that sports clothing should be purely functional, that they have nothing else to prove, that there are much, much more important things to think about than what they look like?

At the end of the day, Bluebella simply wants to sell bras: pretending this is some kind of cultural campaign for gender equality is disingenuous. There has been so much progress in recent years in giving women’s sport greater exposure — in 2018 only 4% of sport media coverage was dedicated to women’s sport, compared to 15% in 2022. However, hundreds of thousands of young girls are still missing out on the physical, mental and social rewards of an active lifestyle. Putting their potential role models in lace panties will not change that.


Kristina Murkett is a freelance writer and English teacher.

kristinamurkett

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

71 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Studies show that the main reasons holding girls back from playing sports are a fear of feeling judged by others (68%), lack of confidence (61%), self-consciousness about others watching them (73%), and other clothing and body image concerns (70%).

Sounds like the same things that hold boys back from dancing.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
18 days ago

The young women look unhappy. I don’t think it’s a display of “attitude”, but one of “why the hell did we let them talk us into doing this?”

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

It’s only a guess, but they look like they’re outdoors in their underwear on a typical British summer’s day.

They’re probably just bloody freezing.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Looks like the kind of wind that would even make Penny Mordant’s hair move.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

The underwear looks pretty naff if you ask me, and doesn’t really suit them. They are probably thinking: if my boyfriend or girlfriend bought me this I’d probably dump him/her.

El Uro
El Uro
18 days ago

Rugby is not a women’s sport and women who play it look pretty ugly, as this photo proves.
The article itself is written in an aggressive tone. Here is an example:
.
Instead, why aren’t there more ad campaigns pushing for body neutrality? Should we not be telling young girls that no one cares if they get hot and sweaty, that sports clothing should be purely functional, that they have nothing else to prove, that there are much, much more important things to think about than what they look like?
.
Young women want to look sexy. This is pure biology, attempts to deny it are stupid, they humiliate women

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  El Uro

they humiliate women

It certainly denies women agency. If they don’t toe the feminist line on this or that aspect of their personal lives and choices then there is something wrong with them that needs to be “modified”.

David Mayes
David Mayes
18 days ago
Reply to  El Uro

I agree, it should be obvious that Rugby is a sport invented by men to test and display physical masculinity.
So when women play rugby they are necessarily masculinized and so become less feminine and less sexy. Lesbian interest in rugby may another matter. But 93% of women are not lesbian and over half of lesbians don’t find butchness attractive.
If the aim is to get women into an active lifestyle whilst not compromising their sense of femininity then don’t choose sports like rugby where lingerie is needed as a fig leaf to conceal unsexiness. Promote the GB pole dancing squad instead.

El Uro
El Uro
17 days ago
Reply to  David Mayes

I agree, it should be obvious that Rugby is a sport invented by men to test and display physical masculinity.
,
Sports such as rugby are contact sports. This is why women in such sport look ugly. Compare rugby to volleyball. Women in volleyball look beautiful, attractive, sexy, as a woman should.
The same we can say about sports like power lifting.
.
All feminist objections to this issue are based on the idiotic assumption that women should be the same as men. That’s why Lea Thomas is the ideal for modern feminists. It’s hard to think of a more disgusting way to insult and humiliate women

Simon Martin
Simon Martin
18 days ago

I’m not sure if this is bad. Male sports stars such as Beckham, Ronaldo and Nada have all fronted underwear ads featuring their bodies. There is no reason to assume the women did this for anything other than commercial interest. As for looking serious, this is presumably what the director wanted (for whatever reason) otherwise he would have asked them to smile. Sometime we need to lighten up a bit.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
18 days ago

How can it be about body positivity if it looks like you are about to shoot a porno?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
17 days ago

Ha ha! I’m not sure that’s the vibe that I got from the photo. Isn’t body positivity about having fatties sell you aspirational products, rather than buff athletic types? And most porn actresses today appear to be covered in tattoos, pierced in every conceivable orifice and substantially fashioned from plastics and silicone.

I suppose there’s the old adage that if it exists, it exists as porn, but I’m not going out of my way to find out if this is true for women’s rugby.

rchrd 3007
rchrd 3007
18 days ago

Just looks weird

John Murray
John Murray
18 days ago

They’re not actually the first female rugby team to do something like this. I have been told that the Oxford women’s rugby team did a nude calendar. I could not possibly comment but it may be on google somewhere.
However, these GB Seven’s team women in the picture look utterly miserable doing it. Hostage situation vibes.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
18 days ago

They are fairly muscular ladies but sexy withal. A bit different from the general run of lingerie models. I don’t see why this would blight any young girl’s dream of being able to be found attractive (that’s what we’re about, right?)

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
18 days ago

What’s missing here is obvious to a lesbian who has played sports all her life. Lesbians are over-represented in most female sports and, sadly, there’s still stigma associated with being lesbian, or even being thought to be lesbian. The lingerie ad is an extreme version of the female signifier: Skimpy lingerie signifies feminine woman, so see: You can be an athlete and still unquestionably female (not lesbian)!
Milder uses of female signifiers have gone on forever and continue. They comprise common elements of feminine caricature; not surprisingly, they are the same stereotypical accessories trans-identified males employ to perform “female.” Even some lesbian athletes try to avoid being seen as such by using them; they include long hair styles and nails and — even on the court or field — heavy make-up. (I don’t know how some made-up WNBA players can see through their eyelashes well enough to shoot.) It’s sad that, even in this day and age, they can’t just play their sport without worrying about demonstrating they’re nonetheless women.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Lesbians are over-represented in most female sports

Thats interesting. Does it tend to be more masculine presenting lesbians, or just lesbians in general? Do you think there is an underlying reason for that, or is it initially just a way to meet other women, but then they get the bug.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
18 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

I can’t say, though I imagine there is considerable research on it. Appearances and mannerisms vary. I was an athlete as a girl all through college, a period during which I was closeted (even to myself), so it wasn’t a dating avenue. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an unarticulated comfort in being with other girls who I somehow knew were like me, and also lesbian coaches (all closeted, during my era). It may also be that lesbians — having departed from the primary convention of heterosexuality — are more comfortable breaking other stereotypes, including the old notion that proper girls and women aren’t athletic.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Thanks for such a clear reply.

Your own story suggests love of sport came prior to explicitly departing from the convention of heterosexuality – though things may now have changed a bit. I’m really guessing here, but perhaps physical prowess is more important to some lesbians than physical beauty (in a narrow sense). I would say this is how it is for men – and there is an expectation that women will be impressed by physical prowess.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
18 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

I’m impressed by physical prowess, in either sex! 🙂 And, you’re most welcome.

Claire D
Claire D
18 days ago

Heterosexuality is not a “convention”, it’s the biological norm of over 95% of human beings, unless you believe in Queer Theory.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
17 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

“Norm” (as a truncated version of “normal”) is fine. “Conventional” (convention) is considered a synonym of “normal,” which can be affirmed by checking a dictionary. Heterosexuality is both the biological norm and the social convention. I chose “convention” because it better applies to other socially mediated activities (sports and female signifiers) under discussion. Nothing to argue over here.

Claire D
Claire D
17 days ago

I did in fact check “convention” in my OED before I wrote my response, the definition there is as I expected; “practice based on this, accepted social behaviour esp. if artificial or formal.”
Also “conventional”; “Depending on convention(s); not natural, not spontaneous.”
I understand you do not want to argue but the facts speak for themselves, in any context heterosexuality is not a “convention”.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
17 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

My dictionary defines convention as “a way in which something is usually done, especially within a particular area or activity.” Heterosexual intercourse is how sex is usually done, as far as I know. You used a dictionary with a (slightly) different definition, which you seem to have interpreted differently, resulting in a different opinion. Neither your opinion nor mine is a fact.
Whether or not one regards heterosexuality as a convention (as well as a biological norm, which it factually is) has no meaningful bearing on the points I made in response to this article. So I’ll not engage further.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
18 days ago

Surely we already have televised lingerie American football.
Why this continual woke drive to put more women’s sports on TV?……..
(Watches 5 minutes of lingerie American football)
Oh, I understand why now….

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
18 days ago

In all such pieces, the unspoken assumption is that men and boys are not subject to such scrutiny and standards. True in the past perhaps, but today that assumption is dead wrong…
I spend much of my limited free time at the gym or on aerobic activity. If I did not I can assure you I would have little or none of the best kind of aerobic activity of all indeed…

Penny Rose
Penny Rose
18 days ago

I still don’t get the obsession with team sports if you’re trying to get reluctant girls to do exercise. Why don’t they do dance or pilates or yoga? Why are team sports promoted so heavily in schools when a great many girls are turned off by them (I certainly was).

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
18 days ago
Reply to  Penny Rose

I’ve been a solo exerciser as an older adult, but team sports teach (obviously) teamwork and interpersonal dynamics and have a social aspect that appeals to many girls. I’m glad I participated throughout school, and in rec leagues as a young adult.
Competitive sports participation (not dance, yoga, Pilates, etc.) positively correlates with later-life success for girls. This, from Forbes: “Top skills gained from competitive sports include teamwork (69%) and leadership (41%). Other skills include managing stress and pressure (36%), problem-solving (35%), and effective communication (34%).”
Complete article here; this research has been widely replicated.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Penny Rose

Why don’t they do dance or pilates or yoga? 

Because it’s all about conquering male territory.

It’s significant that all team sports appear to have been spontaneously invented by men. Women seem to love exercising in groups, but less so in teams.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Some may argue that we should be celebrating a fashion brand using more athletic or muscular models as a way of showcasing different body types and promoting body positivity.

Some may argue that feminists are never satisfied, and always find something new and “problematic” to complain about.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

What is important here is that these women consider themselves beautiful, not their physical strength, resilience, or skills.

Perhaps they consider themselves as all of those things, but not limited to any one of them. We already know about their skills etc from the pitch – so why can’t they show that this is consistent with – perhaps even enhances – their beauty? The only shame is that the quality of the underwear doesn’t actually look that good.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
18 days ago

How many generations must come and go before we let go of these absurd neo-puritan assertions? Nominally, girls and women have for some time now been free to think of themselves in whatever way they choose. We are still preached at by those who assert that the manner in which some emphasize feminine beauty and/or sexuality in appearance is a sinister negative socialization effected via retrograde forces such as–oh my–advertising. But, after the social justice warriors have taken sledge hammers to those forces for nearly a century, many girls and women continue to have profound interest in make-up, clothing, jewelry, accessories and even cosmetic surgery–some of which is either subtly or overtly sexual. Could it be, just maybe, that many women simply prefer such an outlook? And if so, need we so stridently hector society for something unlikely to ever completely change?

El Uro
El Uro
18 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Could it be, just maybe, that many women just happen to prefer such an outlook? – Not “many”. Almost all of them.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

It all seems a bit dated now. And the most it ever does is make women feel guilty and conflicted about things they actually want and enjoy.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Have no male sportsmen been involved in advertising underwear? I’m thinking David Beckham, but perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

Studies show that the main reasons holding girls back from playing sports

The study linked to goes further:

Stephanie Hilborne, Women in Sport CEO said: “It’s an absolute travesty that teenage girls are being pushed out of sport at such a scale.

But it’s not clear that anybody is pushing them out, just that their interests change at puberty (as do boys). My local gym is full of women of all ages, many working out with weights, so it’s not aversion to exercise as such. Many are clearly focussed on looking good – as are many of the men.

I understand that people who love sports think that those who don’t are missing out – it’s PE teacher syndrome – but we are all different. Given the health benefits, exercise is good for everyone, but sports in the formal sense aren’t attractive to everyone.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
18 days ago

“even if you are a female international rugby player, it still matters whether you look pretty on the pitch.”

Pretty on the pitch! They are not planning to play in their underwear!

Actually it looks as if these three are in a nightmare and are wondering what on earth they are doing dressed in weird underwear on the touch line of some rugger-field. When am I going to wake up? Self conscious- in spades.

If this firm wanted to advertise their products providing them with a background where they might actually wear underwear normally would have been better, but I suppose we are talking about it – even if to my mind only the girl in the middle is wearing underwear I would regard as sexy rather than weird or fetishisistic.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
18 days ago

Remember, women playing sport in their underwear is not in the least misogynistic, patronising, or a blatant attempt to get a late-night male-straight-from-the-pub audience, or nostalgia for Benny Hill shows.
That is so 2023.
It is simply an attempt to get them interested in team sport.

Claire D
Claire D
18 days ago

I loathed team sports at school but enjoyed gymnastics, swimming and dancing.
I don’t want to deny any girl a game of football or rugby (I find it incredible, if not incredibly boring) if that is what she enjoys, but putting pressure on girls generally to be ‘more sporty’ in that way is probably counterproductive.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

If rugby didn’t exist, I’m pretty sure women wouldn’t have invented it. And unless someone knows otherwise, all team sports seem to have been invented by men.

I think everyone should be free to play whatever sport they fancy, but this pushing of women into previously male domains strikes me as feminist politics more than anything else.

I’m not big on watching sports – it takes a good match to get me to watch football at all – but Women’s football is like watching paint dry. Maybe it will get better, but at the moment it’s pretty terrible.

Claire D
Claire D
18 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Indeed, it is feminist politics, a pain in the you-know-what in my opinion, but they did’nt spring out of nowhere, it seems as if some women want to experiment being as like men as they can, a few are even prepared to take drugs and have surgery. I think it’s a mistake, but then I think all marxist ideas are a mistake.

El Uro
El Uro
17 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

all Marxist ideas are a mistake – Intentional mistakes!

Bird
Bird
18 days ago

This is nothing more than marketing. The market. Like any company and or label it wants to break bad on the current zeitgeist to cash-in as much as possible. That’s it and that’s all. At the moment, and for awhile one must confess, the major league mantra dominating our visual sphere and audio sphere – is still girl power – think amazon woman. Unfortunately, its truly like 1% of the actual population.
It can backfire on companies like it did here in Aus with major companies backing the Voice. The people took them out on it. Same with bud-lite in the USA with trans-woman Dylan Mulvaney.
Whether they were pressured or coerced or totally up for it – you’d have to ask them. Sex has always sold. Ableit to say – by comparison, we are drowning in it.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
17 days ago

Why shouldn’t sportswomen earn money as fashion models? Plenty of male athletes do it. Whether or not individuals here think that they suit the lingerie or not is beside the point. If sales go up as a result of association with athletes, then the marketing team have done their job. If not, then they should pivot to a new campaign. Certainly, a lot of men buy lingerie for women, but women often buy it for themselves or drop hints as to which brands to buy. They may be appealing to women who like the image of female athleticism.

For one thing, at least the models are clearly women. Imagine if the dreaded Dylan Mulvaney or even Jamie Wallis was parading around in that kit (the latter being a poster boy for ‘body positivity’ into the bargain). Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
17 days ago

This hardly touches the surface of the problem, even though everything in the article is on target the target is massively larger than underwear. Very few women, or men, would choose to be seen as repulsive when wishing to be seen as attractive as possible is such a universal cultural goal. How that is achieved will vary enormously. Fancy pants and bras are only one widespread convention, nobody actually needs a push-up bra or a thong, and the vast majority of women think them silly, but absurd facial makeup for women is another custom that is much more common – prime ministers and priests wear face paints, and every schoolboy will tell you why lipstick is red. Any sort of fashion is an attempt to look ‘better’. It’s always about sex and to pretend otherwise is absurd.

David Morley
David Morley
17 days ago

The picture used by the Independent has the women looking far more attractive and happy. It’s just a way better shot.

Same po faced feminist writing though. Apparently it isn’t really liberating because the women aren’t ugly – so it’s still excluding people. Or something like that.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
16 days ago

Breaking news: women in lingerie are being criticised by other women!
Leave the guys out of this, we are neither the reason nor the target audience of any of this. But please do fight about it, and hand me some popcorn.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
16 days ago

Did anyone think to ask the rugby players for their opinion?

Micah Dembo
Micah Dembo
15 days ago

Women are just nuts. Except my mom, my exwives and my two daughters. Love them anyhow.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
14 days ago

All women are sexual beings. All men are sexual beings. And anyone who thinks sexuality is something forced on females by males has never attended a British comprehensive school.
If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 day ago

They just look cold, and lost.

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago

“It turns out that, even if you are a female international rugby player, it still matters whether you look pretty on the pitch.”

Wrong conclusion. The correct conclusion is that this particular brand wants to be associated with female strength, fitness and vitality, not the same-old female sexual appeal that its competitors will doubtless be adopting. That, and the you’d-think-obvious point that these women aren’t going to be wearing this stuff on the rugby pitch.

The fact that these women also look sexy is beside the point: lingerie is intended to be sexy anyway: it makes no difference who is used to market it.

And yes, lingerie adverts sexualise the women who promote lingerie, of course they do because that’s what lingerie is for. When women wear lingerie, they are expressly setting out to sexualise themselves, that’s why La Perla and the rest of them make a fortune. I can’t believe this needs to be explained.

sally wainwright
sally wainwright
18 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Wow. The ultimate male view! “lingerie is intended to be sexy anyway”. No mate. Lingerie is intended to be functional. It only became “sexy” to pander to men’s preferences.
Your post is a classic example of putting men’s desires ahead of women’s needs.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
18 days ago

Granny pants are intended to be functional. Or M&S knickers for a better example. You can make more of them, in the right company. But lingerie is clearly intended to be fancy.

Claire D
Claire D
18 days ago

There are two types of lingerie – functional and sexy – both equally popular.
It sounds as if you want to deny women their desires, their ability to make choices and their enjoyment of their femininity. That’s a bit misogynistic is’nt it ?
Male desire is’nt a crime, women don’t “pander” to it, we feel desire for them too, and sometimes lingerie plays a part in bringing the two together.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

I’d say there is lingerie and there is underwear, but it comes to the same thing. And many women lean to the former even for completely everyday use.

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

I suspect Sally will shortly denounce you as a heretic.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
18 days ago

One of the needs of women is being desired men.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
15 days ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Do lesbians need to be desired by men?

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago

That’s a really silly post. Have a look around any lingerie shop.

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago

Claptrap. Underwear is functional. Lingerie is decorative. And yes, it’s about male desires, because the vast majority of women – heterosexual ones, that is – do actually want men to find them attractive. Just like all straight men want women to find them attractive.

See how simple life becomes once you aren’t trying to contrive grievance out of the innocuous?

Your post is a typical example of putting feminist ideological priorities ahead of critical thinking.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
17 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

It’s a fairly asinine headline. Selling anything sex-related must, by definition, put any models in a sexualised context. And so what if it does? Plenty of masculine sexuality in advertising still about (amazingly enough). It’s basic human nature.

mac mahmood
mac mahmood
6 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Lingerie means underwear, even in the UK.

LindaMB
LindaMB
9 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

In 2018 a 27 year old rapist was acquitted in Ireland because the 17 year old victim was wearing a g-string and the court decided this was proof of her consent.
Your opinion that women who wear lingerie are “expressly setting out to sexualise themselves” is what leads to such miscarriages of justice. Women wear lingerie to feel pretty and ‘good’ about themselves. It is not all about the male gaze.

Judas Pissed
Judas Pissed
18 days ago

Which one’s the hooker..?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
18 days ago
Reply to  Judas Pissed

I don’t know, but if one is a prop, I’d prefer it be the tight-head.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
18 days ago

The women made themselves look foolish.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
18 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Did they? How so?

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
18 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

They are not lingerie models and are visibly uncomfortable in garments someone else has chosen for them.

David Morley
David Morley
18 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

And which don’t really suit their body type. The one on the left has something of the wrestlers outfit about it.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
18 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Surely the entire point is that they aren’t lingerie models…