There’s no “right” way to portray a strong woman.
Have you seen the recent Bugaboo ad? It features a mom, in a bikini, jogging with a Bugaboo stroller. A lot of people on social media saw it and reacted in a big way. They saw her outfit as inappropriate, and her image as unrealistic.
My take? Good for her. She looks fit to me, not overly thin or sexualized. And while I agree, the media too often portrays women as valuable merely for their youth, beauty, and sexuality, here I find an active mom who’s trying to be healthy. There’s no “right” way to portray a strong woman, after all, and there’s no single woman who can represent all of us.
As the filmmaker behind Miss Representation, my 2011 documentary that challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women, I know how important it is to critique how the media portrays women. Media both creates the message, and is the messenger. All too often, the media sends harmful messages about what it means to be a woman. In the Bugaboo case, though, they are featuring a mother who is proud to demonstrate how a woman can be strong, active and feminine. As a mother of three myself, I empathize with those values.
Model Ymre Stiekema for a Bugaboo shoot.Photograph by Duy Vo for Vogue Netherlands and Bugaboo
Recently, because of the work we do at my nonprofit organization, The Representation Project, I was invited to serve as a judge for the Cannes Lions, a prestigious advertising festival. There, I helped select the winners of the inaugural Glass Lion, which honors advertising campaigns that challenge gender bias and shatters stereotypical portrayals of men and women. It was inspiring to be around such body-positive, diverse and uplifting entries, including This Girl Can, an incredible ad campaign from Sport England encouraging women of all shapes, races and sizes to exercise.
I encourage Bugaboo to follow their lead. Let’s feature other women with all sorts of body types also jogging and pushing their strollers. Wouldn’t that be a great campaign?
And don’t worry Bugaboo, you won’t be alone. Check out the August cover of Women’s Running magazine. It features plus-sized athlete, Erica Schenk, on its cover, showing that there is no one-size-fits-all model to being healthy, or an athlete. And of course, I loved Olympian Amanda Bingson’s spread in ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue. She is an inspiration. So I say, good for the Bugaboo model, just as long as we can also celebrate bodies like Erica Schenk’s and other diverse examples of womanhood.
While there is still an enormous amount of work to be done around the portrayal of women in the media (for instance, did you notice all three of the above examples are white?), I do find it promising that we are seeing these different body types. We’ve just got to do a better job of highlighting more diverse examples of beauty and health. And while we’re at it, let’s celebrate the full-coverage exercise apparel along with the more revealing stuff.
For the health of our girls – and, frankly, for our boys – it’s imperative that we encourage body positivity, by showing a range of body types as beautiful and healthy. We need people of all sizes, ages, races, and backgrounds to feel included and represented.
Regardless of how you feel about the Bugaboo ad, the fact that we’re having a widespread discussion about how women are represented in the media is a major and positive step forward. Let’s continue to stay engaged and move the conversation forward so that we demand advertisements that are inclusive and healthy for men and women, boys and girls. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m hopeful and seeing progress!
Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a filmmaker, advocate, and Founder and CEO of the non-profit organization The Representation Project, which inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting gender stereotypes.