Road to Roxy
Interspersed in this post are some amazing voices from those who are supporting a petition to ask Roxy to stop using “sexy” to sell their products, a request that I argue pertains to the entire surf industry. You can read about the video that started it all here. You can add your voice to the nearly 20,500 supporters at Change.org to be delivered to Roxy headquarters next week on September 12th.
Prior to the mid-1990s, tracking the surf industry’s use of female surfing images was a nearly non-existent project. Those few of us who did surf rarely, if ever, saw each other featured on the pages of surf magazines or in videos. When surf companies chose to use women to sell product, they most often used non-surfing, “beach babe” models who hung off the male surfers like expendable and easily exchangeable (blondes with similar body types and same skin tone) accessories.
Voice: “I’m sick of seeing women in sports going unnoticed, and watching talented girls who can shred get looked over for sponsorship in favour for girls who can’t really surf but have “the look”. I’m tired of being assaulted daily by images of half naked women with impossibly perfect bodies. These unrealistic images are harmful to women who then feel pressured to look a certain way and have flawless skin, hair, nails and teeth. I want to be seen as equal by men in the water who so often think it’s ok to comment on girls appearances and compare us to other women. This way of promotion and selling is degrading and insulting to us as women. It’s time girls got equal respect as surf competitors with prizes that match the mens competitions. They shouldn’t have to sell their bodies to gain headway in a sport. No woman should feel pressured to look a certain way for fear of losing her career.” -Dani Robertson, UK
The image of 1980s surfing (when the surf brands started gaining momentum by taking advantage of a cultural shift toward consumer lifestyle marketing) that the brands and the surf media, Big Surfing, created and promulgated was one that was rebellious and deviant in a rockstar sort of way, complete with booze, drugs and women. Although there were female surfers setting amazing competitive records and a growing number of women in the line-up, surfing did not deviate from its sexism yet it lauded itself for the occasional picture amongst thousands, of a female surfer.
Voice: “Female surfers do not exist to entertain men. They are athletes who should be recognised for their athletic ability and commitment to the sport. This promo video is an insult to women and sends a damaging message to young girls. Great to see so many female surfers speaking out against this garbage.” -Melinda Liszewski, Aus.
It took the emergence and proven success of women’s athletics via Nike and Reebok before Big Surfing became convinced that it ought to back women’s surfing in a tangible way. Enter Quiksilver’s Roxy and the article of clothing that Roxy claims fundamentally shifted women’s surfing forever: women’s surfing trunks.
“The boardshort became a huge trend. Roxy, and women’s surfing along with it, was suddenly the next big thing.” –Roxy, About Us
At the beginning of this same About Us piece, we are told that “female surfers, despite their achievements in and out of the water, hadn’t drummed up nearly the notoriety nor the community that guys had long enjoyed.” This quote places the onus on women’s failure to “drum up” the support that the surf industry refused to give. What this implies in hindsight becomes more clear with the glee we are hearing from the industry and the media regarding today’s new, “hot and sexy generation” of female surfers and how they are being distanced from past generations. This evasion of responsibility is a constant in Big Surfing: every failure is the individual’s or the outgroup’s (in the case of surfers of color or female surfers); every success is the industry’s to claim.
Between these two comments lies an entire hidden history that is steeped in sexism and flagrant misogyny, issues that female surfers in every country touched by Big Surfing have had to negotiate for well over 40 years. When Roxy showed that women’s surfing was a viable, profitable business (one that was the main reason the sales of the surf industry skyrocketed through the 1990s and into the early 2000s), other brands followed suit and women’s surfing was suddenly visible everywhere. Young girls flocked to the oceans and burgeoning all-girl surf schools to learn this liquid dance.
Voice: “The objectification of females has been something we have been fighting to stop for years. I can’t believe in a sport that has also fought for equality and justice, one of the leading sponsors has endorsed yet another injustice. Please Roxy, as females we deserve more, our girls deserve more, we simply deserve respect. It’s time.” -Lisa Mambro, Aus
One would think that women’s surfing would fiscally equal men’s surfing because of this, but we have not yet seen this to be the case. The sexism and misogyny of Big Surfing have been blanketed by an image of women’s surfing that is highly controlled and fantastically written. Female surfers from within the industry who speak out about this in a tangible way are dropped by their sponsors, blacklisted from the industry and the surf media, and effectively silenced and wiped from Big Surfing-white-male-written surf narrative. What the next generation sees is what Big Surfing wants it to see, modeling for the next generation of aspiring pro surfer girls and girls who want to live the surfing lifestyle what they need to look and act like.
Currently, that narrative is social networking fame highlighting non-action oriented images and hypersexuality, neither of which translates to being a better surfer or even being perceived as a better surfer (multiple studies show the opposite is true*) or the progression of the women’s surf industry.
Voice: “I believe this type of advertising is of poor taste and can create a distorted perception of women in society. Young girls are growing up, discovering themselves and these sexualized images can influence their belief on their own self –image. Over decades women have fought hard to gain respect and equal rights. This type of advertisement is destroying everything that has been fought for. Therefore I believe advertising for women should be made to empower women not objectify them.” -Emily Campbell
Voice: “This is not what it is to be either an athlete or a women, that’s about selling women’s bodies or maybe porn, I have three daughters and they will not have to think this is what they should have as a role model.” -Kyra deAguiar, Brazil
Voice: “Really Roxy? As a mum of 2 little girls, I’m always on the look out for women who might inspire them, surfing and surfers inspire me, and my husband is a passionate surfer, we live in France and were planning to come to the Roxy pro contest….Then I showed him #whoamIjustguess. I said, ‘hey do you want to watch the roxy pro trailer?’ and he said ‘yeah, has it got some cool surfing in it?’ We were both disappointed. What a waste of time, there are so many talented women surfing at the moment, and you chose to show one woman, who wasn’t even surfing? What a joke. ‘Who am I?’ Who cares, it could be any model, she clearly doesn’t need to surf to be important – or make you money. You should be embarrassed by this.” -Kate Apanui, France
The ocean can be a place where women can escape the sexism found on land (in the media, at work, in the home, at school) and reconnect with who we are despite the noise of our cultural environment. For a company or an industry that purports to represent our lifestyle to do so in such a way is not only disingenuous but also damaging to future generations of girls and women who might find solace in this amazing activity. My hope is that Big Surfing will finally start listening to our voices instead of those continuing to spout the old narrative that has grown stale and is oft times simply repelling.
“‘The blame isn’t on the athlete,’ Fink continued. ‘They’re playing the only game that exists. I think soon the marketing executives and mainstream media need to realize how the next generation wants to see its female athletes. And that’s simply as athletes.’
The irony, as both Fink and Lavoi point out, is that some female athletes, and entire leagues, are still glamming themselves up in the name of mainstream appeal, even though several studies have shown (for male and female athletes) there is no correlation between seeing a sexy image and then actually turning on the game to watch the player whose sexy image you have seen.
‘Actually, what helps, believe it or not, is to show their true athletic ability,’ Fink said.
To read more voices from around the world, please visit the petition at Change.org
*Cunningham et al (2008), Fink et al (2004, 2010, 2012), Knight & Guiliano (2002), (Kane & Maxwell (2011)