F*ck You Billabong. Seriously, f*ck you.
This article was originally published on Medium by Karen Knowlton who also writes for Still Stoked.
Forgive me my outrage, but this sh*t really burns me up. How is this the best you can do? How is this the first impression you choose to deliver to visitors of your site? Are you even aware of what you are doing?
I sincerely hope not, so let me break it down for you:
Man as subject, shredding waves. Woman as object, back arched and head dropped back for ultimate titillating effect on the viewer. This doesn’t even pretend to be an image of a woman having fun on the beach, actually enjoying her beautiful body in the perfect swimsuit. It’s just straight objectification.
Here women, this is what we think of you. Welcome to our site.
You are ostensibly an athletic apparel company, yes? And you presumably have a fleet of badass female surfers you could photograph and display actually surfing? Or even just frolicking on the beach in their perfect bodies and pretending to have fun? You know, images of women as actual people who have experiences in their bodies, rather than the female body as simply an object to be viewed and consumed by others.
You could even pick out just the right action shots to make sure you don’t lose the sex appeal. You know, wet hair sexy and tousled, models looking extra focused and a bit pouty, perfect bums on display as they wait for a wave. But at least get one of these girls on an actual surfboard, would you please?
You’re not the only surf company guilty of this, I realize. Going to buy booties at the Rip Curl Outlet, I was confronted with photos of Alana Blanchard, surfboard under her arm, looking coyly back over her shoulder so we can stare at her bum while she walks the beach. In another, a close-up of her unzipping her onesie to emphasize optimal cleavage visibility, not a surfboard, or even any water, in sight. Great stuff.
Naturally, photos of guys actually surfing dominated most of the walls at Rip Curl, while the few lone representations of women were purely voyeuristic and sexualized. Standard practice, really.
I get that sex sells, but just do better. Just be better than this, because this totally sucks and frankly the whole thing is a bit tired. This kind of imagery impacts the psyche of women and girls far beyond whatever marketing moron you entrusted your site to could even imagine.
We soak this sh*t up, these images that tell us who we are and what we are for, what our bodies are good for. Those of us who do surf have to silence the voices inside our own heads that say we don’t actually belong out there in the waves the way guys do, that we’re not entitled to take up that space, to battle for and potentially take a wave guys are also trying for. I struggle against feeling less entitled to even be there, an object out of place and not taken seriously, until of course I get the chance to prove I mean business by catching the perfect ride.
Surfing is still such a Boys Club. Nine times out of ten, the make-up of people in the water is 90% male. Easily. Half the time, I’m the only female out there. Why continue to propagate this idea that even according to a surf apparel company, a woman’s place is on the beach, not in the lineup? Do you not realize how damaging this is?
Unless I misunderstand something, it is quite literally your job to provide apparel to people, read: people, not just men, who want to get out there and surf. People who want to get out there and actually challenge themselves and their bodies, challenge their own limits. For women, part of this is challenging the limits that society puts on us about our worth and our ability, limits we slowly internalize over a lifetime of being subjected to images exactly like this one.
Telling girls who go to your website to look at bikinis, onesies, and other items they actually intend to surf in that this is what you think of them, is f*cking brutal. Click on this absurdly insulting image if you want to browse our women’s collection.
This is what you have to offer us. This is how you, as a company, see women, and it is also what you are trying to sell us about ourselves. Billabong makes products for men, who go out there like badasses and catch awesome waves, and also for women, who basically just lie around uncomfortably, waiting to be looked at and desired.
This is what your bikinis are for, apparently. For display, not for action.
This sh*t is powerful. This layout, this choice representation of who Billabong thinks men are, and who it thinks women are. This sh*t matters. Girls who look at this site get the message loud and clear that no matter what else they’ve heard, and despite all the pushes to get more girls in sports/tech/leadership, etc, etc, when it really comes down to it, the most important thing is still how good we look in a bikini.
We get enough of this sh*t elsewhere, I assure you. We don’t need it from you too. So show me some badass (and beautiful, if you must) women out there shredding waves and having fun on the beach. Show me what is possible for me, as a woman, if I buy your products. Sell me that dream. Isn’t that what this whole business is about anyway?
I’m your target market and you’re losing me. Do better.