If you’ve turned on the TV at all in the past couple of weeks you’ve surely seen the “Shop to Win” commercials from Kohl’s. If not, here’s the general premise: a legendary female athlete (swimmer Dara Torres, skier Lindsey Vonn, and soccer star Mia Hamm have all been featured) sits in an empty room and talks about the intense experience of competing at a sport’s highest level. “When I’m out there, I am totally in the zone,” says Torres. “It’s a real adrenaline rush,” says Vonn. “I get pretty excited when I score,” says Hamm. But wait, there’s a twist! These women aren’t talking about sports…
They’re talking about shopping! Get it? Finding great bargains at Kohl’s is just as exciting and impressive as winning a gold medal (which all of these women have done at least once). These commercials are kinda clever, I guess, but mostly they rub me the wrong way, because they feed into the idea that women athletes must maintain a careful balance between being physically powerful and pleasantly feminine. While male athletes are often celebrated solely for their athletic accomplishments (no matter how attractive or charming they are), female athletes need to be fierce in competition, sweet in interviews, elegant on the red carpet, and super sexy in the pages of men’s magazines. In fact, our society consistently rewards female athletes for playing down their athleticism, for showing a softer side and a penchant for more traditionally feminine activities.
And now, here are three world-class female athletes (Dara Torres has won 12 Olympic medals, you guys) looking into the camera and explicitly equating the thrill of elite competition to the thrill of finding a cute dress on sale at Kohl’s.
As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with fashion and shopping, and a love of either doesn’t say anything about a person’s strength or character, but I think there’s a big difference between saying, “I’m an incredible athlete who loves shopping” and “My shopping skills are just as important as my athletic skills.”
In the scheme of harmful media messages, these Kohl’s commercials might not rate very high, but still, it’s something to think about. So, what are your thoughts about this ad campaign? Cute? Harmless? Cringeworthy? Totally offensive?