The countdown is on. With just under two weeks from the opening ceremonies of the XXX Olympiads, the Canadian press is in frenzy. Stories about Simon Whitfield, Clara Hughes, and Alexander Desperate have glazed the headlines in recent days and panels are convening to discuss Canada's hopes at improving the 18 medals we won in Beijing, in which only three were gold medals. Canada won 26 medals total in the Vancouver Winter Olympics and 14 of them were gold. I am extremely excited to watch the Olympics and can't wait to see all athletes test their abilities and stretch their limits.
However, we all know that the Olympics are not just about the sports. Unfortunately, in most recent years, the Olympics has been a hotspot for controversy, politics, and a mass marketing enterprise that can care more about the bottom line just as much as the athletes. The medal count can occasionally mean a business success or a business failure. Along with the upcoming games, we see the release of new advertising and TV commercials. I must admit that I think the Nike commercials are fantastic, and I also love the ad with Usain Bolt warming up and using his Gaterode pre-, during, and post- run. However, there are some commercials that particularly stick out in my mind in more ways than one.
Cover Girl has made a bold move. Instead of your typical myriad of plumping, fluffing, glossing and grooming spokespeople they have placed some pretty impressive women's boxers in their ads. Appropriately, boxing will for the first time compete in the Olympic Games. Of course, at first we think, why would these women waste their time talking about eyelashes? I could see deodorant- but make-up? But of course, it sends the message of athletic is beautiful too and goes nicely with an effort to move away from bad body images and move towards a healthy happy environment.
Marlen Esparza appears in many American commercials and will be representing the USA in the ring this coming Olympics. "I feel that I embody the image of Cover Girl and that anyone can be beautiful, and is deserving of beauty no matter what your personal situation is," Esparza, told PEOPLE magazine. "You don't have to be famous to look good."
Mary Spencer is the reigning Canadian women's boxing champion and one of the new faces of Cover Girl. By participating in various marketing campaigns, including advertising, in-store promotions, public relations and digital and social media and a TV commercial, Cover Girl and Procter & Gamble representatives said they are "proud to support Mary Spencer to help celebrate the power and strength in beauty." Spencer is a gold medal favourite for female boxing, and she is currently ranked No. 1 in Canada and the world. The ads overturn the super-model only club of Cover Girls and give women a new role model and a different concept of what constitutes beautiful.
This is an improvement in advertising, but only a small step in the right direction. Along with the new Cover Girl commercials, the transformation of women in sports reached a significant milestone this week. Saudi Arabia will be sending two women to compete at the London Olympics, meaning that for the first time all participating nations will have female athletes competing. It is sad to say, but less than 20 years ago, at the 1996 Atlanta Games, 26 countries did not send women but in these women will make up more than 40 percent of the approximately 10,500 athletes, about the same percentage of women that participated in the 2010 Winter Games, in Vancouver.
So it is fitting that with the advances of women in sports, commercials and business strategies should change. But the message will not stick if these types of commercials only come out once every four years.
We are still overloaded with messages of thin-is-best, diet scams, and makeup products that need to be caked on. And unfortunately, young impressionable girls are soaking it up. We turn on the TV and what do we see? Desperate housewives, bachelorettes, and modeling shows that only reinforce a message of fakeness and dangerous imageries. Women in sports have come a long way, but we still need to promote those changes. Why are male sports constantly dominating TSN and other sport networks? Yes, it is driven by the dollar, and more tickets get sold to boy's high school football (Don't believe me- watch Friday Night Lights), than the women's world hockey championships (Wait? When did this happen? Note sarcasm). Do we even know about our women succeeding in sports? Did we even hear about Mary Spencer before she became a Cover Girl? A media network needs to push women's successes into the headlines, at the very least; they need to cover it on the sport highlights.
Colette Dowling in "The Frailty Myth" argues that girls in the U.S. are often discouraged from fully developing their muscles and sporting skills, and are rewarded for having "small, weak, delicate bodies." For example, according to Dowling's research: studies show "that parents routinely reward boys for active play, but reward girls for passive and quiet play; and schools encourage more large muscle skill development for boys than girls (Dowling 2000: 51-55)." And, "by age 4, boys perceive themselves as stronger than girls, and girls perceive themselves weaker than boys (Dowling 2000: 86)."
This is why these Cover Girl commercials are a good thing. But what is going to happen after the Olympics? Are we going to revert back to ultra-thin models who haven't seen a soccer ball in their life? How are girls supposed to be proud of women's athletic accomplishments if we don't show more women succeeding and breaking through barriers? There are tons of women out there who are showing the world that women can compete at high levels of sports and still be beautiful and feminine. It is now time that we see them- or at least hear about them.
When I sit down to watch the Olympics at the end of the month, I will be cheering Canada on- regardless of if the person wearing the maple leaf is a man or a woman. What is important is the effort, the dedication these athletes put into their sport and that we as Canadian support our athletes. The Olympics gives potential to highlight not only sports that don't get the lead story during the year, but athletes who, undoubtedly would not have entered into our dialogues had they not appeared on TV. Despite the fact that they have put in countless hours of work to get where they have been. We will also see a lot of new high grossing commercials- some of which are like CoverGirl's that show a new side of their marketing strategy. Finally we can start seeing that athletics is beautiful. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another four years to see the next one.