Ban the bra: Adidas’ “scandalous” commentary on body positivity

The breast bras around. Christian Wiediger via Unsplash

Is it not safe for work, or just Twitter being Twitter?

On February 9, the official Adidas Twitter account posted a photo of a variety of women’s breasts with the caption: “We believe women’s breasts in all shapes and sizes deserve support and comfort, which is why our new sports bra range contains 43 styles, so everyone can find the right fit for them.” The hashtag included was #SupportIsEverything. As can be expected, there were a lot of mixed opinions on this advertisement. Some people believe the advertisement was just a way for Adidas to tap into the body positivity movement and make money. Others believe it was a great advertisement and that it created a discussion. I will walk you through what body positivity is and give some of the opinions on how this advertisement creates a broader conversation. 

The body positivity movement has a vague beginning. Some people believing it is a movement that began for burn victims and amputees to experience representation, others claim it began as a fight against diet culture and unattainable standards for people. For the purpose of this article, I will be defining it as a movement that creates representation of all kinds of bodies, that there is a fight against extreme photoshop and typical bodies one sees in fitness ads. In this Adidas advertisement, the chests are of all varieties; they are not just the perky ones one would expect to see. There are diverse body shapes, stretch marks, skin colors, and different sizes of chests.  

Some of the criticism of the advertisement comes from the question “is a woman’s chest appropriate to show?” Many of the comments under the post are sexualizing the women in the ad or making jokes about the NSFW nature of the photo. Some people have even called the advertisement tasteless. Some underwear companies responded by showing genitals as a way to parody the advertisement. The official Fleshlight Twitter made a post showing various Fleshlights and saying, “we believe vulvas of all shapes and sizes should be supported,” imitating the language of the original Adidas ad.  This opens up a conversation that goes beyond a bra: whose nipples are okay to be shown? How does gender binary play into it, and how can transgender and non-binary people contribute to this conversation?

Of course, Adidas was expecting this controversy when posting the ad, and many people assume that this was a way to make money. When Cathy McComb, the professor of “Underwear and Social Meaning” class was asked for her opinions, she said, “I think this ad is an attempt by Adidas to be perceived as a supplier for the growing Free the Nipple campaign. The FTN movement was formed by artists and activists worldwide to bring to light the double standard with reference to the exposure of women’s breasts versus men’s chests in popular culture. I presume that Adidas actually sees an opportunity to sell more merchandise rather than a reason to take a moral stance.” The fear for many is that this ad is a way for Adidas to market towards people who believe that the female presenting nipple is okay to be shown (only Tumblr 2018 veterans will remember) and that they will be attracted to Adidas because they feel the company aligns with their values.

Despite the controversy, Adidas has claimed that this campaign was made for good reasons. After a tweet was made by someone shaming female bodies for showing too much skin, Adidas responded with their campaign and the phrase: “All bodies should be celebrated and supported, without shame or exception.” Adidas claims that all people should be able to find a sports bra to fit them, and that this ad shows the variety of shapes and sizes that breasts may come in. 

When looking through the #SupportIsEverything hashtag, there are a lot of people praising Adidas for their campaign. The official Woodward Sports Network Twitter posted photos of men topless in solidarity and showed the variety of men’s bodies and fitness levels. There are unattainable standards for all genders, especially in fitness. People are praising Adidas for fighting against these arbitrary standards.

When looking at this photo, many of my friends felt empowered by the image. Even knowing it is just a campaign, it has created an opportunity for many people to talk about their insecurities. Adidas is not the first company to hop into the body positivity discussion. For one April fools’ “prank,” Aerie got into some heat for their #AirieMan campaign, where a diverse cast of men were shown. It was later revealed that it was a prank, and after backlash, Aerie actually adopted the campaign to try and “do some good.” Rihanna has been praised for her Fenty shows, which includes all genders and all bodies (including people with disabilities and pregnant people). Online content creators like John Glaude (aka Obese to Beast) show photos of themselves with their loose skin. There is usually one kind of body in fitness, and it is not attainable for the majority of people. People want representation in fitness, and they want it now. 

There is one final angle that I want to approach this advertisement with. The Sunday before I discovered this advertisement, I had to report someone for harassing me based on how much of my chest was showing. During this time, I felt a lot of anger, shame, and disgust. When I saw this advertisement, even though I knew it was probably just a way for Adidas to market and make money, I felt at peace. I was able to see people use this campaign as a way to take back power, just as I am currently taking back power as I write this article. The act of talking about bodies in fitness, bodies in media, and the sexualization of various genders brings back control to the people who are marginalized and victimized in sports and media. Whether this campaign by Adidas is a money grab, distasteful, or a part of a social movement, it creates a conversation for the sports and health world – and that is all that matters to me.


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