Your Source for Feminist Discourse

Surfing Through Sexism: Sexualization in Advertising

Spring break wasn’t too long ago, and with the reluctant emergence of spring here in the Shenandoah Valley, I desperately want to go back. This year my eight housemates and myself stayed at a friend’s house in Hatteras Village, NC, a sleepy town south of the famous Kitty Hawk dunes. With the beach and what seemed like the entire village to ourselves, we kept a low profile and barely saw a soul. One day though, we paid a visit to a local surf shop called Natural Art, and I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.

You wouldn’t know it from my current appearance, but I used to be a big beach kid. Through the years I’ve changed my appearance but the love of the art and culture of surfing is still swimming in my blood. We all went their separate ways within the shop, and with my interest for print media I naturally gravitated towards the various surf magazines.

Real talk, the mind may register that brand symbol in the corner, but the eyes are drawn to a different focal point.

I found old favorites like Surfer and Waves, but I also found a familiar aspect about these favorites I hadn’t realized so many years before. As I flipped through the pages, I didn’t immediately see much coverage of female surfers. Of course, there was a small update or two on top performing pros and their recent achievements, but beyond that all human-interest stories was primarily centered on men.

In the same vein of print, I’m also very much interested in advertising. The methods and appeals used to market different products is fascinating to me. I recalled sports related magazines like these tended to rely more on visual appeals; pictures of waves, curls, and stunts drew all the attention in surfing magazines, but bigger pictures of near naked women sold. As I flipped through these familiar pieces of my past, I felt equal parts surprised, uneasy and ashamed.

Can you not?

The ads seemed to paint a pretty clear picture that many advertisers didn’t mind playing to sex appeals. What was more disheartening though, was that it seemed like the magazines didn’t care to challenge the culture and promote surfing as an all-inclusive sport. In the weeks since, I’ve been engulfed in processing my thoughts.

It’s a common held belief that print media is on it’s way out, and whether or not you buy into that, it’s hard to deny statistics suggesting that physical magazines are a dying breed. In this desperate time publishers should be seeking out ways to draw in new audiences in the hopes of turning those readers into subscribers. Some might argue that these magazines cater to a predominately male audience, however look at the market and find me a surfing magazine that caters to a female market, let alone a diverse, equal market.

Shout out to BA women in surfing.

Lack of coverage on influential women in surfing is the first sin, but continually advertising head-less women’s torsos in advertising is blatant ignorance. These practices promote a sexist culture that dismisses any contributions women are creating in surfing, as well as diminishing any credibility or notoriety kick-ass women bring to the sport. Make no mistake though, surfing magazines aren’t the only offenders and it’s time to change. Magazines stand to gain so much if they were just conscious of their publications impact on mainstream society and took responsible ownership of their role. It’s long overdue for magazines to embrace a cultural change in limiting women’s abilities by the sex appeal of their bodies.

What do you think about the sexualization of women in sports magazines? What about other magazines? Leave a comment and let’s get tell me more!

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