Dear Activewear Industry: I Can't Relate to 99% of Your Ads
Here at Byrdie HQ, we think the idea of a "perfect body" is as outdated as snake-oil diet pills and spandex-clad workout icons. But that doesn't mean we don't talk about our bodies—the opposite, in fact. We're all about body acceptance 24/7/365, but this week, we're serving up some extra love: Meet Byrdie Body Week. Consider it a love letter to the weird and wonderful vehicles we inhabit, as well as a deep dive into all the body questions that plague us (such as Will my laptop really fry my ovaries?). We'll also be spotlighting all that's new in the product world (fake nipples—yeah, we're going there). Let's all agree to be a little kinder to our bodies this week (and month and year), no?
I do not hate my body.
I am 25 years old. I do not have time to hate my body. I have a job and two cats, and I like to go on weekend trips to the mountains, and I have a standing weekly Italian lesson on Saturday mornings. I don't have time to spend every evening in front of a full-length bathroom mirror practicing different ways to make my stomach look flatter. There was a time when I did, though. Back in the early to mid-2000s, when I was a tween, I thought my body was nothing short of hideous. I don't know if you remember that era, but around 2005, skeletal celebrity frames were appearing on the cover of tabloids with disturbing frequency, and I couldn't help but compare. Luckily, those years have passed, the concept of body positivity has been on the rise, and criticising every imperfection of my slightly soft, 5'2" frame no longer interests me. It may have taken half my life to get here, but I am finally cured of my self-loathing. At least that's how I felt… until "athleisure" became the decade's biggest trend.
Read on to learn how the activewear industry did a number on my body image—and how one brand's inspiring new campaign is helping to turn that around.
Fabletics Camille Tank ($45)
You know who else hated their body in the mid-2000s? Demi Lovato. She and I are the exact same age, and ever since she was on that charming Disney Channel miniseries As the Bell Rings, I have been a big, big fan. Back in 2011, when Demi opened up about her struggles with disordered eating, addiction, and vowed to be a positive role model for girls who aren't a size 0, I felt even more connected to her. On our separate coasts, and in our very separate lives, Demi and I both spent our early 20s learning to accept wholeheartedly what "healthy" meant for our bodies.
By the time I turned 25, I thought my desire to be stick thin was completely behind me, but over the past few months, my relaxed self-image has taken a bit of a nosedive. In part, I blame the activewear industry. Of course, I think it's great that living a fit lifestyle has become so trendy. But what I think is less great is how all the outrageously expensive athleisure we're supposed to buy now is advertised with the same tall, willowy fashion models that we've been trained to admire for decades. There's a disconnect here: The culture tells us we're free to be healthy, strong and confident, but the industry still tells us we're supposed to be skinny?
In 2017, I can't relate to 99% of the bodies I see in activewear campaigns. And to be totally honest here, sometimes I'll spend a couple hours at home doing image research for Byrdie's fitness section (which unfortunately involves looking at hundreds of skinny athleisure models); then I'll get up to take a break, catch my reflection in the mirror and think, Wow, these leggings do not fit me like they fit those girls.
Fabletics Blair Leggings ($80)
I hate admitting that I'm vulnerable to the problematic messages sent by women's advertising. Because objectively, I know that so few women look like the models in those images. But even as an adult, they get to me. I can only imagine how self-conscious athleisure ads and fitness Instagrammers make today's generation of teens.
But the other day, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across an athleisure ad that I could finally relate to. It came from Demi Lovato's account. It was an image of her in a badass athletic ensemble—a streamlined black-and-white sports bra and high-waisted leggings. The post was in announcement of her new capsule collection with Fabletics, the affordable activewear brand founded by Kate Hudson in 2013. Demi's collection of leggings and tops launched this month (more pieces will be added in August), and it's the brand's first-ever celebrity collaboration.
Demi Lovato obviously has a rocking bod—she's tracked her inspiring fitness journey on Instagram for years, and fans recognise her as a symbol of body positivity. Her shape is also one that I feel that I can realistically aspire to, which I so rarely find in today's sportswear ads. Over the past few weeks, Demi and Fabletics have flooded their social media accounts with images from the new collection, and in a strange way, I feel as if they've granted me permission to don my activewear without shame. I know that I don't need permission, especially from a celebrity or brand, to feel okay about who I am—but in a culture that so often tries to police women's bodies, these images feel incredibly validating.
Choosing a body-positive figure as its first collaborator, as opposed to a fashion model or thigh gap–sporting Instagrammer, was no coincidence for Fabletics. "When we started seriously considering our first Fabletics collaboration, Kate [Hudson] naturally thought of Demi," the brand's CMO Kristen Dykstra told me in an email. "They met a while back at a hotel gym when they were traveling. Kate was really inspired by Demi, her music and her mission. … When we approached Demi, she was just as excited about it as we were."
When asked if body diversity plays into the brand's consciousness, Dykstra said, "Absolutely. From the very beginning, Fabletics was designed with every woman in mind—regardless of size, shape, age, or ability—because we want every woman to feel included." From my perspective, Demi is one of the first real incarnations of that vision and hopefully a harbinger of what's to come. Her campaign has reminded me how much images in advertisements matter, regardless of how old you are, how confident you feel, or what the fashion and wellness trends of the moment may be.
As the truly delightful Gabourey Sidibe said in a radio interview earlier this year, self-confidence isn't something you acquire once and have forever. "I have to put my confidence on multiple times a day," she said. "It's like lipstick. … Lipstick will wear off, confidence will wear off, sanity will wear off. You have to work at it."
In a small but important way, Demi Lovato's Fabletics campaign is helping that confidence stay on just a little bit longer.