“Really regressive and sexist”: Female rugby lingerie ad condemned

Lingerie company Bluebella has attracted criticism over a new ad campaign featuring British female rugby players on the field in lingerie.


The company claims the #StrongIsBeautiful ad campaign challenges stereotypes that “strong female form is not ‘feminine’”. 

But reducing female athletes to sexual objects doesn’t challenge stereotypes. It reinforces the message that above all else, women should be valued for their physical appearance and sexual appeal to men. That even for female athletes, their skills and abilities are not nearly as important as how sexually desirable they might be. 

Screenshot_2024-07-04_at_4.37.40 pm.png

The campaign was widely slammed across social media as sexist, demeaning and insulting to women, including by a number of prominent female athletes.

Mara Yamauchi, former Olympian and marathon runner posted a response on X (formerly Twitter):

This is exploitative, demeaning, sexist, regressive rubbish. Of course the intended audience is men. Portraying women as sex objects will not encourage teenage girls into sport.

Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies wrote:

Women’s sport has nothing to do with having to be sexy at the same time. I don’t blame the rugby girls who struggle to get sponsorship, huge inequity in sport funding, (women get just 4% of the sponsorship dollar) but this is not what serious sport should be for young females, objectifying them. It’s what we’ve worked against for years to get away from. Girls of all shapes, sizes & types can be amazing sport women without having to wear see through bras to be seen! Regressive advertising project & those in charge should have had better judgement, it will have a negative effect on participation numbers.

Women in Sport UK posted:

Our female rugby players have been inspiring a generation. They are strong, resilient and powerful. Let's celebrate their skills, tactics and teamwork on the pitch. They have nothing else to prove.

Screenshot_2024-07-04_at_4.36.35 pm.png

Sexploitation of women in sport

While the harms of sexualising and objectifying women are well-documented, sexualising female athletes may have specific negative impacts for women in sport. A paper published on Aussport examines this sexploitation of female athletes, a term to describe marketing and promotion that focus on the sexual attributes of female athletes.

From the report:

The female body is used to sell many products in our society, from cars to washing powder. In certain forms of promotion through sport, the female athlete is also being treated as a commodity - in this case, an overtly sexualised one.

This type of promotion is held to be a form of exploitation. And, as is common with exploitation, it can have various negative effects, both on the individual athlete and the sport as a whole. It is therefore crucial that athletes and sports understand the possible ramifications of using sex to promote women’s sport. They need to ask the key questions, ‘what are we actually promoting and what are we really trying to achieve?’

Sexploitation of female athletes negatively impacts women’s sports in a range of ways. It determines the value of female athletes primarily in terms of their body type and attractiveness, and detracts from their sporting abilities. Intentionally sexualising female athletes harms their credibility, reinforces gender stereotyping, excludes women who do not fit the ‘appropriate’ body type, and undermines the credibility of female athletes and women’s sport as a whole. Instead of encouraging girls to participate in sport, sexualising ad campaigns are more likely to do the opposite.

Screenshot_2024-07-04_at_4.37.05 pm.png

While we support challenging the narrow, limiting beauty standards for women, and greater representation of diverse body types, race and ethnicity and age, we do not believe objectifying a wider range of women, or a wider range of body types, constitutes progress.

See also:

Sexploitation of women in sport 

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Is inclusive objectification something to celebrate?

A decade of fighting sexploitation of women in sport

Add your comment

  • Caitlin Roper
    published this page in News 2024-07-05 13:27:27 +1000

You can defend their right to childhood

A world free of sexploitation is possible!

Fuel the Movement