Nike’s Reflection on Real Beauty
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Unfortunately, people tend to see a reflection of only their flaws. Humans are not perfect beings, so why must our imperfections be seen as imperfect if they are nothing out of the ordinary? Nike takes an unconventional approach to minimize the gap between the real and ideal beauty of women of all shapes and sizes. The fitness apparel company ran an ad campaign in 2005 that emphasized the beauty of numerous body parts that are usually seen as negative physical attributes. In order to change the way people view beauty, Nike encourages women to celebrate certain body parts that often have a negative connotation such as “thunder thighs.” The other four body parts include a big butt, hairy sticks for legs, tomboy knees, and far-from-fragile shoulders. Although the original ad campaign did not receive as much success as a 2010 recreation did, Nike is successful in appealing to the emotions of women through a simple picture and poem to encourage them to look past the misinterpretation of bodily flaws and see them for how lovely they truly are.
Each advertisement in the campaign targets a specific body part by showing its picture. None of the ads contain a full-body image of a woman. This strategy is employed so that the women featured are not given an identity but are recognized solely by their seemingly flawed body part. These simple images represent a woman’s perception of her shortcoming as she will single it out and let it become her identity. Constantly focusing on insecurities results in a completely negative attitude and view of oneself, and Nike demonstrates this with the contrast between dark and vibrant colors. The “unappealing” body part is depicted in black and grey coloring while the background contains splashes of bright pinks, purples, oranges, and greens. Dark colors signify negativity and depression while vivid colors express positivity and happiness. Therefore, the difference in color correlates to the negativity that overcomes women because they see themselves as flawed while surrounded by beauty. Throughout its use of simple, colorless pictures that focus on individual body parts on a vibrant backsplash, Nike is able to empathize with the female audience in relation to their insecurities.
While establishing an emotional foundation with women through the ads’ appearance, Nike continues to call to their emotions with short poems that give logical explanations why these so-called flaws are something to be proud of. One poem says having thunder thighs is “a compliment/ because they are strong/ and though they are unwelcome/ in the petite section/ they are cheered on in marathons.” This phrase acknowledges that large thighs may not be the suited for petite clothing, but women can be proud because they are strong and will have people cheering them on in the fitness community for all that they are able to accomplish. The speaker continues by saying that one day “I’ll bounce a grandchild on my thunder thighs/ and then I’ll go out for a run.” The ad appeals to the caring nature of women who want to be strong enough to bounce a grandchild on their legs someday and still be active at an older age. Although these body parts may not be the most appealing to the eyes, they serve a purpose whether it is providing strength or a place for grandchildren, and that is what makes them beautiful.
A logical explanation may not always be enough to convince an audience, so Nike must establish its credibility, as well. Of course, Nike is a well-known athletic apparel company whose goal is to promote fitness. Obviously, it is a company that knows the effects physical activity can have on the body, and it does not try to hide this fact in its ad campaign. Nike acknowledges that being fit does not always result in the model-like figure many people strive for. At the same time, it also recognizes the importance of fitness and the confidence it can provide if one chooses to embrace it. For example, the big butt ad ends with the sentence “My butt is big/ and that’s just fine/ and those who might scorn it/ are invited to kiss it.” The speaker not only displays her recognition of having a big butt but also disregards anyone who might think it is anything besides beautiful, giving off a sense of honesty and confidence which in turn gains the audience’s respect. Furthermore, each ad begins with a simple, straightforward sentence in which the speaker is accepting her body for what it is. One begins with “My shoulders aren’t dainty,” another with “My knees are tomboys,” and the pattern continues. Displaying acceptance in this way shows the audience that the speakers are honest and not trying to hide anything. This helps to convince the audience to believe the message that they are in fact beautiful.
At first glance, it may appear that Nike is simply selling its credibility rather than its products, but this is another rhetorical strategy the ads use to target its customers.
Only one ad clearly shows a Nike product, and even then, it is not the main focus. The only evidence that these are Nike ads is the slogan “Just Do It” and “nikewomen.com” besides the Nike swoosh, all written in the same font beneath the poems. Forgoing the inclusion of specific products shows that the company is putting the self-esteem of its customers before their sales. This tactic further establishes the company’s integrity and establishes trust with its audience.
To maintain this trust with their ever-changing audience, Nike constantly has to create new ads that relate to society at that specific time. When this “real beauty” ad campaign was released on the Internet in 2005, it may have been ahead of its time. Self-image has always and will always be an issue, but it has become more evident with the increasing presence of social media. When the big butt ad was recreated by a source other than Nike in 2010, it gained an enormous amount of popularity. An explanation for the increase in popularity between the two ads is the five-year time gap that allowed for the dramatic increase in social media usage. Social networking sites help to spread ads like this in order to combat self-image issues, but they also work the opposite way. Advertisements and social media often stress that the only way to attain true beauty is to look like the impeccable celebrities and models they showcase. This unrealistic view of beauty creates a false perception of what it means to be beautiful and can lead to serious self-esteem issues, especially in women. For instance, social media has recently spread the “thigh gap” movement. Nike specifically targeted the issue of thigh gaps being seen as necessary with its thunder thigh ad years ago. It seems that its timing was off as it may have been more influential in recent times with thigh gaps being encouraged. Although Nike had a positive message, the kairos seemed to be lacking at the time the campaign was released.
Nike typically works to advertise the importance of fitness, but in their 2005 ad campaign, they took a unique approach to emphasize the beauty that comes with fitness but is often seen as unappealing. Utilizing specific images of body parts in dark colors, Nike appeals to the emotions of women by showing they understand the imperfections women must overcome. The poems challenge the audience to see logical reasons why they should maintain a positive view of such body parts rather than seeing them as imperfect. Through their openness and honesty, Nike makes their argument more sound and believable. It is possible that the ad could have been released at a time when the issue of self-image was more pressing thanks to the surge of social media; however, Nike’s message is one that can be spread over and over without wearing out. The message is simple. Not all bodies are created equal, but healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Though not everyone sees the beauty, it is still present and should be appreciated.
Cubbage, Geoffrey. “Nike’s Big Butt Ad Is Fake, Just Not as Fake as You Think.” Misanthropology 101. WordPress.com, 20 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/nikes-big-butt-ad-is-fake-just-not-as-fake-as-you-think/>.
Leftfoot, Lucas, Sir. “More Nike Women Ads–”Thighs,” “Shoulders” ….” NikeBlog.com. NikeBlog.com, 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://www.nikeblog.com/2010/08/02/more-nike-women-ads-thighs-shoulders/>.