We never see her face. We never see her surf

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Is it Stephanie Gilmore in controversial Roxy ad?

Five times world professional surfing champ, 25 year-old Stephanie Gilmore from New South Wales has been named as Roxy's new ambassador as the surf brand continues to be attacked for it's provocative ad.

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Only a few days after BBC commentator John Inverdale’s offensive comments about Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli caused such a widespread eye roll around the world, a YouTube promotion for the Roxy Pro Biarritz surf pro competition for women began to cause consternation among viewers. 

It’s a sexy ad, there’s no doubt about that. It’s dreamy and slow; The Virgin Suicides if it were set against Sydney’s beaches. Unfortunately, this isn’t a promo shoot about wistful ingenues overcome by the suburban ennui of their own lives - if that’s what Roxy were going for, they’ve completely missed the mark. 

In the promo, a faceless woman (rumoured to be five time world champion Stephanie Gilmore) stretches languidly across crisp white sheets in nothing but a pair of frilly knickers. Rising, she pulls on a white shirt (also crisp), the outline of her body shadowed through its fabric. She makes her way to the shower, where we watch as drops of water flick off her tanned shoulders and elegant hands. A sun-soaked electronic summer anthem plays, its beat keeping time with the slowed down tempo of the film. Our protagonist, dressed now in denim shorts, carries her surfboard across the beach and through Roxy’s draped pink banners while we, the viewers, train our collective eye on her long legs and tight derriere. Stripping down to her bikini, we switch our gaze to her breasts, perhaps enjoying how pert they remain even as she waxes her board. Finally, she enters the water and begins to slowly paddle out. Our eyes follow behind, angled up her legs to the skimpy bikini bottoms that tease us with their cheekiness both literal and figurative. ‘ROXY PRO 2013’ the promo informs us. ‘Women’s World Surfing Championships’. 

The woman puts a shirt on - before having a shower.

The woman puts a shirt on - before having a shower. Photo: Screen grab

We never see her face. 

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And we never see her surf. 

This morning Roxy announced that Stephanie Gilmore is their new ambassador. While unconfirmed, it's assumed that the video is part of a 'slow release' publicity campaign to generate buzz around Gilmore's controversial switch from Rip Curl to Roxy, a brand of Quiksilver Inc. 

The woman arrives at the beach with her surfboard.

The woman arrives at the beach with her surfboard.

It’s difficult to imagine a similar artistic vision being cast for male surfers, whether by surfing brands themselves or outside parties aiming to work with them. When men are cast as the subject of the gaze, they are almost always given an active role. Tourism Victoria’s promo video for this year’s Rip Curl Pro at Bell’s Beach intersperses the stunning scenery around Torquay with some phenomenal surfing. There are no slow panning shots up half naked men’s bodies, no irrelevant montages that focus more on the process of getting into the water than what they do once they get there. Instead, the featured subjects of male surfing promos, documentaries and adverts are given the luxury of being valued for their skills, not their taut buttocks. (To be fair, a 2006 promo for the Rip Curl Pipeline Masters doesn’t focus entirely on the surfing prowess of its stars - there are copious cut away shots of women lolling about in bikinis watching them too.) 

Imagine if the reverse were true. In 1997, artist Tracey Moffatt made a short film called ‘Heaven’ in which she spliced together beach car-park footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits. Moffatt’s intention was to turn the gaze back onto men, to cast them as erotic subjects with no control over how they were perceived or valued. 

As Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies, Natalya Lusty wrote in 2004, "Moffatt’s subjects are caught in a moment of powerlessness, whereby their strutting performances and attempts at bravado disclose a deeper unease about the exposure of their naked bodies before the camera." 

The woman prepares to get into the water.

The woman prepares to get into the water.

‘Heaven’ works because it turns an expected trope on its head - that it is women who experience the gaze, not they who control it. And as artistic viewers, we know that it works precisely because it is anomalous. Men would never be expected to get over the facts of their own visual exploitation, perhaps because men are rarely turned into passive victims of sexual exploitation. On the rare occasions that they are, it is received with shock and unease, a wrinkle in the space-time continuum. 

When Kim Duthie shared photographs of St Kilda footballers Nick Riewoldt and Nick Del Santo in flagrante delicto, Riewoldt called a press conference in which he said he found Duthie’s actions ‘incomprehensible and distressing’. Fair enough - I’m sure they were. But I doubt very much whether anyone told Riewoldt that it was just a bit of fun, and that hey, everyone knows that girls will be girls and they all like to have a bit of a look so perhaps next time be a bit more careful mate?    

And yet, such understanding and agency is rarely extended to women when they ask for their space or achievements to be respected, even when on behalf of other women. I am concerned that a brand which markets directly to women doesn’t seem interested in treating those same women like active participants in the world. Why, in a promotional video for a competition in which champion female surfers will compete to claim a world title, does the host of the competition not think it necessary to showcase their extraordinary skills? What on earth would compel them to think that images of an is-it-or-isn’t-it Stephanie Gilmore showering, getting dressed and walking across the sand - things that almost every human being can do - would be more fascinating to viewers than images of her doing this or this or this - things that almost none of us can? 

The woman lies on her board in the ocean.

The woman lies on her board in the ocean.

It’s tempting to write these concerns off as insignificant. Indeed, I anticipate lots of feedback to this article telling me to ‘get over it’, to ‘lighten up’ and to just accept the fact that men like to look and women like to be looked at. No big deal, right? 

 Well, it IS a big deal. Because the most amazing thing female surfers can do has precisely nothing to do giving a hidden audience a boner. And while it’s almost amazing that most women spend the majority of our lives in an unacknowledged performance that begins sometime in childhood and ends when menopause makes us invisible once more, our most spectacular achievements (and failures) are unrelated to how appreciative (or dismissive) that hidden audience is of our beauty. Like the dual heroes of Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey's Puberty Blues, Miss Faceless Roxy Girl worked hard to be able to get into the water and on a board. And yet here we still are, bikini clad girls waiting on the beach and holding on to everyone else's Chiko roll.

 

Is it her? Top Aussie surfer Stephanie Gilmore pictured at the Roxy Pro Biarritz event in 2012.

Is it her? Top Aussie surfer Stephanie Gilmore pictured at the Roxy Pro Biarritz event in 2012. Photo: AFP

 

205 comments

  • Why would she put on a crisp shirt if she's about to take it off and have a shower? Anyway...

    I remember seeing Roxy ads in magazines I read as a teenager and thinking the ads really didn't seem to be selling the surf lifestyle, they were just selling pretty blonde models in pretty swimsuits. Therefore this video doesn't come as a surprise to me.

    Commenter
    Mellah
    Date and time
    July 09, 2013, 12:42AM
    • I agree - it's cross promotion but the main message is about selling clothes. And haven't they garnered a bucket-load of press from articles like this - so it looks like the ad worked! As for why would she put on a shirt to go to the shower...my daughters get changed three times before they come down to breakfast!

      Commenter
      Janine
      Location
      Bulli
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 8:55AM
    • Thought the same thing, - why would you put a shirt on to walk to the shower.?
      Being without clothes or fewer clothes provides a feeling of liberty and freedom which is something that the surfing marketing has always promoted. The other problems with the ad are that it's too glossy, the shower head should plain and simple and the car should be a more "worn in" model.

      Commenter
      OceanDeep
      Location
      In The Pipe
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 9:44AM
    • If it were Kelly Slater showing off his ripping abs and muscley legs, we wouldn't have heard a peep...

      Commenter
      dragit
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 12:03PM
    • Curiously, I just don't recall there being a similar uproar when the semi naked old spice guy was on our screens. In fact, if memory serves, there was quite the opposite reaction from women when an good looking, athletic, and semi-naked man was spruiking man smells.

      This is just a beat up and totally a case of double standards.

      Commenter
      SM
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 12:43PM
    • 'It’s difficult to imagine a similar artistic vision being cast for male surfers, whether by surfing brands themselves or outside parties aiming to work with them.'

      Rubbish. Women don't surf (to borrow a phrase from Apocalypse Now) - or not much, anyway. If there was a really famous male surfer, his tanned, ripped body would be used to pitch stuff to women, no doubt.

      It's not 'difficult to imagine a similar artistic vision being cast' for a very famous male sports star - you don't have to imagine it, it's happened - David Beckham in his jocks. Of course, there was lots of feminist outrage about that promo - wasn't there? No?

      Yet feminists probably wonder why they are accused of double standards.

      Commenter
      beria
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 1:04PM
    • More so, why would she bother having a shower if she was going surfing? Anyway, I'm quite happy to watch the ad - she's beautiful - but it doesn't really let you know about a surfing contest.

      Commenter
      Hugo Thundercrotch
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 1:15PM
    • There's a lot of comment about double standards. I have no problem with beautiful people advertising stuff. The problem with this ad is it misses the point. It's an ad for a surf contest, yet not a single wave or person surfing.

      Commenter
      Kick
      Location
      Inthemoot
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 1:30PM
    • Beria - The difference being - when David Beckham is in his smalls it's because the point of the commercial is that he's SELLING UNDERWEAR. In that context, it makes perfect sense.
      This commercial is supposed to be selling us a women's surfing competition. It does nothing of the sort.

      Oh, and don't give me that bollocks about Kelly Slater, dragit. If this was his commercial, you'd have nothing but frame after frame of him utterly tearing it up, and then holding a trophy over his head and being doused in champagne. Where was that shot here?

      Commenter
      BB
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 1:42PM
    • "Curiously, I just don't recall there being a similar uproar when the semi naked old spice guy was on our screens. In fact, if memory serves, there was quite the opposite reaction from women when an good looking, athletic, and semi-naked man was spruiking man smells."

      SM, well done, I don't think I've seen a better case of 'totally missing the point' in a very long time. The difference is - the ad you describe is for perfume.....the ad in question is for a sporting event....do you see the difference? Maybe I should get out my crayons....

      Commenter
      Liv
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 09, 2013, 2:00PM

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