Dedicated to the art of movement, this month is all about the journey to body awareness, and what it really means to devote energy to wellness, exercise, and self-love in 2019.
Walking through the Herald Square subway terminal in early May, I saw something that truly shocked me (a difficult task in New York City, I might add). Nike advertisements starring the faces of the USA Women’s soccer team lined poles throughout the station. They appeared strong, determined, and powerful. But the shocking part wasn’t how they looked—it was that they were there in the first place.
When we talk about women in sports, we’re used to seeing stand-out Olympians like Simone Biles or Serena Williams—women who have broken major barriers and become superstars with endorsement deals and celebrity friends. But when it comes to team sports, where the majority of female players exist, these athletes are notoriously underrated. They are paid less, get less attention, and in general, are taken less seriously.
This week kicks off the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament in Paris, and Nike is using the space where fashion and sport meet to give these athletes the place in the spotlight they’ve always deserved. Last month, the brand released collaborations with four designers—Ambush’s Yoon Ahn, Koché’s Christelle Kocher, MadeMe’s Erin Magee, and Marine Serre—who each created their own version of the soccer jersey.
“I wanted this jersey to be sport first, fashion second,” Magee tells COOLS of her design. “It’s meant to celebrate the incredible victorious history of the USWNT by drawing attention to the woman namesake of the iconic sportswear company itself: Nike, the Goddess of Victory.” Serre adds: “It’s important to create a purposeful line that makes a female feel good without compromising the style.”
But this idea that one can be both a woman and an incredible athlete—and fashion can fit somewhere in between—is not new to Nike. One of the most iconic photos in the history of women’s soccer came during the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when player Brandi Chastain celebrated her team’s victory by ripping off her jersey to reveal a black Nike sports bra. It was an authentic moment of celebration, and her bra, which wasn’t intended to be a symbol of feminism, became one.
Moving into this year’s tournament, Nike’s slogan is “Don’t change your dream. Change the world.” In 1999, Chastain’s photo was met with criticism by pearl-clutching viewers who thought her bra moment was both unprofessional and crass. Regardless, it changed how the world sees female athletes—that they can be a symbol of something overtly feminine, but also be great at what they do.
While things certainly seem to be progressing (see: the aforementioned subway ads), 20 years later there is still work to do, even on Nike’s side. As we head into the 2019 World Cup, will these women walk away with the same endorsement deals as their male counterparts? Will there be coverage and packed bars watching every game in the same way male sports are shown?
Though it’s (unfortunately) unlikely, awareness through uplifting advertisements like these are a step in the right direction. These women are becoming more visible in a way that will move the needle forward for another young girl or femme who wants to and can do both. As we watch the World Cup in the coming weeks, hopefully, we’ll start to see even more change.
Feature image courtesy of Nike.