New Work Celebrates 'Big Butts, Thunder Thighs and Tomboy Knees'

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- In the latest nod to “real” women -- and the latest blow to the wafer-thin body image -- Nike has introduced a campaign that celebrates women’s “big butts, thunder thighs and tomboy knees.”

Three of the new Nike ads stressing less-than-perfect anatomy.

Cultural hot-button
It comes on the heels of a Dove campaign that touched a cultural hot-button and set off a flood of media coverage culminating with models from the ads appearing on the cover of People magazine.

And it could mark a shift in how women are portrayed in media and advertising, images often blasted as being unattainable and the cause of low self-esteem and even eating disorders among young girls.

Gloria Steinem
“It is a change that women -- and some men, too -- have been agitating for 35 years,” said noted feminist Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. magazine. “I spent 15 years of my life pleading for ads that reflected our readers by age, race and ethnicity. We could demonstrate that women responded better to ads that were more inclusive of them, but they just weren’t coming.”

Today, they appear to be.

“There’s a definite trend going on in society and the marketplace of self-acceptance and being comfortable in your own skin,” said William Wackermann, Glamour magazine's vice president and publisher, whose title has printed the un-glamorous campaigns from both Dove and Nike. “Dove was a wonderful campaign, and Nike is just brilliant. The copy is clever and fresh.”

'My Butt is big and round'
The ads, from Nike’s longtime Portland agency, Wieden & Kennedy, are authoritative and bold, with a bit of humor. The six different images represent six different parts of the body, including a posterior in an ad that shows a well-rounded bum and copy that reads: “My Butt is big and round like the letter C, and 10,000 lunges have made it rounder but not smaller. And that’s just fine. It’s a space heater for my side of the bed. It’s my ambassador. To those who walk behind me, it’s a border collie that herds skinny women away from the best deals at clothing sales. My butt is big and that’s just fine. And those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it. Just do it.”

Other ads refer to “thunder thighs,” legs that “were once two hairy sticks” and shoulders that “aren’t dainty.”

Nancy Monsarrat, Nike’s U.S. ad director, called the branding campaign an extension of the “If You Let Me Play” campaign geared toward women that Nike ran in the late 1990s -- with one exception. “In the '90s we finally got smart and said, ‘Hey, let’s talk to women.’ But we never talked specifically about women’s bodies, and that’s a hot topic right now.”

No TV executions
There will be no TV executions in the campaign, which is designed to drive the audience to and, ultimately, its fitness apparel. But there is a digital component, which made its debut last week on the same Web site, which features short films of women discussing topics such as their bodies and working out.

“Women come in all shapes and sizes, which is no surprise, but when you talk to women in an honest way, they respond,” Ms. Monsarrat said.

Ms. Steinem wasn’t positive about the Nike campaign. “It’s a step forward,” she said, “but I just question whether Nike would do an ad about a man talking about his butt.”

Some have said the trend started earlier this year with Dove’s “Real Women, Real Curves” campaign, which features women of all shapes and sizes happily posing in their underwear and hawking Dove’s new cellulite-firming body lotion.

Disparate reactions for Dove
The campaign has created huge buzz -- and disparate reactions. While some have praised the work from WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather for “keeping it real,” others have found it less genuine. The women range in dress size from six to 12, for instance, and the average American woman is size 14. Advertising Age’s Bob Garfield called the campaign “confounding” and added “sizes six and eight notwithstanding, they’re all still head-turners, with straight white teeth, no visible pores and not a cell of cellulite.” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper wrote that if he wanted to see “plump gals baring too much skin,” he would attend the city’s annual summer food festival, a jab that resulted in more than 1,000 calls, letters and e-mails.

Others have said that the trend started earlier, perhaps in 2002, when actress Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in Meredith Corp.’s More in a sports bra and spandex shorts without makeup or air-brush retouching of the photo.

Not the work of a copywriter
Trend expert Faith Popcorn of Brain Reserve, New York, said the shift did not start in advertisements. “No copywriter did this,” she said. “It started when we started to celebrate the black and Hispanic culture. In those cultures you can be a little ‘butty’ and even have a little mustache, too, and it’s considered cool and attractive. Now these white girls are looking at themselves and saying, ‘I don’t want to be a stick, I want to be natural.’”

“The most sought after look is the natural look,” said Linda Wells, editor of Conde Nast Publications’ Allure. “We just did a study [of 1,000 female respondents] and the words they used most often to describe their looks were natural and real. Those words were used far more than beautiful and pretty and even higher than sexy and glamorous. That’s a shift.”

Gerald Celente, director of the Rhinebeck, N.Y.-based Trends Research Institute, said the shift began taking place in the late 1990s as the last of the baby boomers inched closer to the age of 35 and beyond.

Desire vs. reality
“The reality is that the baby boomers started aging all together and it shows,” Mr. Celente said. “And when you’re talking about the baby boomers, they are still the most powerful demographic in American society. They’ve gotten to the age where now they know what America really looks like. Now the onus is on the advertising industry. Do you advertise for desire, or do you advertise toward reality?”

Most Popular
In this article: