Women's Sport: What it means to see athletes in the Agent Provocateur advert

To coincide with International Women’s Day, lingerie brand Agent Provocateur released a new campaign called Play to Win. It features four athletes wearing underwear from the brand while taking part in their sports. 

The ad sees gymnast Georgia May Fenton, pole vaulter Alysha Newman, hurdler Queen Harrison-Claye and rock climber Sasha Digiulian perform their sports in Agent Provocateur lingerie to the soundtrack of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” giving the ad an eighties workout vibe.

The ad hasn’t been without controversy – The New York Times, for example, questioned whether the ad was “a step forward or a great leap back”? Additionally, as someone who works in sport, I am always slightly sceptical about adverts featuring women in sport that coincide with International Women’s Day. It is hard not to see it as jumping on the bandwagon when so often sportswomen are celebrated just once a year. 

But on this occasion, it seems like an empowering move. The ad is fun and crucially the athlete look comfortable as they push their bodies climbing, leaping and twirling around a bar in the underwear. All the women chose what they wear and the campaign is female-led. 

An Instagram post from Digiulian on the ad, however, truly cements why we do need campaigns that celebrate the bodies of sportswomen. 

The climber wrote: “In my career, my body has routinely been a topic of conversation. I have been called anorexic and I have been fat-shamed. I have been analyzed for what I wear, and judged for being too ‘pink.’ I have been told I don’t look like a ‘climber,’ I am not ‘core,’ and at times, I feel like I don’t belong to a sport that I have loved since I was 6 years old.

“Stuff like this can resonate in your mind. It has affected me. Body confidence has, and still does, take work. To feel proud and to own who I am; that’s what I work towards. I want anyone out there who, like me, wants to just be his or herself, to know that it’s okay.”

Digiulian added: “I am honoured that Agent Provocateur decided to feature athletes as their models in the new 2020 global campaign. For a luxury fashion brand to recognize the diverse body types out there and to embrace all of us as beautiful in our own shapes and movement is a step forward from traditional norms.”

In a world where sportswomen’s bodies are still mocked – one newspaper recently closed comments on Australian rules football articles due to social media trolling – the more we see women in sport celebrated for everything they offer including their strength and physicality, the more everyone will accept them. 

It’s 2020, we shouldn’t still be having a conversation about why people need to accept everyone’s body shapes. Frankly, how other people look is nobody’s business and yet sadly it is a subject that doesn’t seem to go away.

Whether this is a one-off or not (and as always I hope it’s not) to see an ad that’s a joyful celebration of women in sport is something to get excited about, whatever the athletes are wearing.

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