How Nike and Mothercare are breaking through glass ceilings in favour of female empowerment

Today is International Women’s day and in the spirit of female empowerment Nike and Mothercare’s new campaigns set out to smash female stereotypes, each in their own unique way, by drawing on the achievements of world-class sportswomen and real mums.

This marks a sustained desire of companies to engage in socio-political dialogues and humanise their brand in order to attract more customers.

Last week Nike premiered it’s ‘Dream Crazier’ short film, which focusses on influential and industry-changing sportswomen, who broke, and are continuing to break, those glass ceilings and inspiring a generation of young athletes.

This celebration of women in sport is in anticipation of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, due to take place in France this summer. The ad is narrated by Serena Williams, who was also a prominent figure in Nike’s first film ‘Dream Crazy’, which championed the efforts of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who put his weight behind the Black Lives Matter movement and faced a fierce backlash from the NFL. In continuing this tone, ‘Dream Crazier’ features South African double Olympic 800 metre champion Caster Semenya, who has sparked controversy by contesting proposal from governing body IAAF that will introduce testosterone limit which would impede transgender athletes from competing in women’s competitions. Notably, it also includes 4-time gold medal winner Simone Biles, American sabre fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, and US snowboarder Chloe Kim who was the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding medal aged just 17.

This campaign is very apt for the current social climate we find ourselves in, which deems that women who display emotion in sport ( … and in the workplace, in general life) are categorically irrational, hysteric, overdramatic and therefore lesser as a sporting professional.  This is quite an obvious nod to Serena’s very recent personal experience when she challenged the umpire on his ruling against her when playing Naomi Osaka in September, which Australian cartoonist Mark Knight depicted by drawing Serena in caricature form (which drew on racist and sexist stereotypes of African American people) jumping up and down in a tantrum on top of a broken racquet. Lest we forget the double standard at play here: John McEnroe, Nick Kyrgios, Jimmy Connors – just saying.

There is a strong drive for change being embraced by many brands to challenge and revolutionise the language used to describe female athletes and their achievements, which often doesn’t reflect the narrative that appears only to be reserved for men.

This feel like a natural extension of the Dream Crazy campaign, which is similarly poignant and profoundly relevant. Nike seeks to motivate and inspire through a celebration of quasi-superhuman acts and sporting achievements, whereas Mothercare takes a slightly different, and equally commendable, approach to instigating female empowerment.

Mothercare’s new campaign #BodyProudMums champions and celebrates the beauty of the post-birth body, which receives scarce media attention and is not often reflected in the public realm of social media.

This campaign was the runner-up in the Transport For London’s Women We See competition, a new advertising competition run by TFL with the Mayor of London to improve gender diversity in advertising. #BodyProudMums was conceived to open up the conversations lines and encourage body-positive discussions that will inspire mothers to feel confident about their bodies.

It is pertinent that the campaign features 10 real mums and their children, photographed by Sophie Mayanne, who two years ago vowed to never digitally retouch her photos. She commented that she strived to portray “the raw and incredibly emotional experience of childbirth”.

Mothercare promoted the campaign on their Instagram, where they concurrently took the opportunity to share stories from real mothers who talked about how seeing your body undergo such as transformation can affect your confidence, which is not alleviated by the overwhelming pressure emanating from social media to quickly ‘bounce back’ to your normal shape.

They talk to mum of 6 Nardy, 20 weeks after giving birth, who observes that our cultural focus is misplaced; we should be concentrating on the mental and physical health of new mothers, rather than an emphasis on aesthetics.

Louise was interviewed 29 weeks after giving birth, and she mentioned that she decided to take part in the campaign not only to bolster her own self-confidence, but also to shed light on post-natal disease and complications in labour. Giving birth caused Louise to have sudden liver failure, resulting in an immediate liver transplant, which meant she was in hospital for the first month of her daughter’s life. This campaign directly tackles the trend of portraying unrealistic ‘post-baby body goals’ on social media with their untouched, honest and raw photographs which are not often visible and hardly ever celebrated.

In a similar strategy to Nike, the #BodyProudMums campaign emulates a similar tone to their previous First Steps campaign in November, which marked the first real campaign for the retailer in 10 years! This signals a decision by the company to give themselves a very clear brand identity that puts parents at the centre of everything they do. This has had a fantastic reaction online, with many people exclaiming their adoration for this breath of fresh air. This couldn’t have come at a better time for Mothercare, who will have closed 60 stores by June this year. By the end of this month, they will have only 79 UK stores, which is down from 137 in May 2018. Their sales are also down 11.4% in-store and 16.3% online in 13 weeks to 5th January. How positive it is to see though that they haven’t abandoned creativity or wallowed in self-pity, and instead they have injected some life and purpose into their brand which appears to have resonated very well for them.

In the Nike and Mothercare campaigns women are presented as boldly defying convention and expectation, whether they are pole vaulting or embracing their natural bodies, both serve to smash those entrenched stereotypes that we know all too well. Here’s to that!

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