An Adidas campaign for Pride 2023 has gained considerable backlash after featuring male-presenting models wearing women’s swimsuits. Now, many people have defended the brand, amidst a wave of anti-trans sentiment towards companies including transgender people in their advertising.
The sportswear brand unveiled its new collection for Pride 2023 on 15 May, titled “Let Love Be Your Legacy”.
The range of apparel and footwear was designed by queer, South African designer Rich Mnisi, and comes as a collaboration with the non-profit Athlete Ally, which focuses on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports.
In a statement, Rich Mnisi said the collection was “a symbol for self-acceptance and LGBTQIA+ advocacy.”
On the company’s website, one of the bathing suits from the line – a colourful one-piece swimsuit called the “Pride Swimsuit” that retails for $70 – was being shown off by an apparently male model, though their gender is unknown. The swimsuit was marked under the women’s sportswear section on the website.
The campaign photoshoot immediately set the internet ablaze, as many people criticised Adidas for “erasing women” by using a male-presenting model to advertise its female clothing.
Former NCAA women’s swim athlete Riley Gaines, who has often been outspoken against trans women competing in sports, tweeted: “I don’t understand why companies are voluntarily doing this to themselves. They could have at least said the suit is ‘unisex’, but they didn’t because it’s about erasing women. Ever wondered why we hardly see this go the other way?”
“We women will not be erased!!! Quit trying to replace us with male models!!! We’ve fought hard to be heard. Quit attempting to erase us again!!!” another user tweeted.
Others called out the company for the move towards “woke” advertising, in light of the recent Bud Light and Nike campaigns featuring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
“Apparently Adidas hasn’t learned the lesson from Bud Light fiasco. Time to give Adidas the ‘get woke, go broke’ treatment,” said one person.
British internet personality Oli London added, “Nike and Adidas are at War to see which brand can become the Most WOKE! Both brands are now using male models to advertise women’s sports bras. Who wins the WOKE Award?”
Reviews for the bathing suit on the Adidas website have also been flooded with one-star ratings and negative reviews, like one which read: “Hope the same thing that happens to Bud Light happens to them with this woke trash.”
Despite some of the criticism, many people have stepped up to defend Adidas for featuring the models in its Pride Month collection.
In response to the backlash, author Dr Delatorro McNeal appeared on daytime talk show Daily Blast Live to discuss the Adidas Pride campaign. “My concern with all of the bashing and all of the categorising is that we’re not leading with love and we’re not leading with acceptance and inclusion,” he said.
“We all want to count, we all want to matter, we all want to be included, and it’s so vitally important. So I believe that, although there’s a fine line between free speech and freedom of expression, I believe at the end of the day if Adidas wants to create this line, let them do it. The customers that are going to align with that message and are aligned with that product are going to get it those that won’t, won’t.”
Others took to social media to express their support for Adidas, as well as their confusion over the widespread outrage. “Why are people in an uproar about a man modelling a womens ‘pride’ swimsuit for adidas??????” asked one person on Twitter. “WHO CARES?”
Meanwhile, on TikTok, someone else said: “I want one!!! It’s beautiful and so is the model!”
“Trans people exist! They shop too!! If the model doesn’t represent you it probably wasn’t meant to,” another TikToker said.
“Y’all are making this outrage up,” a third user wrote. “I’m a millennial woman and I don’t feel erased or threatened. Accept people, love people, grow.”
In April, Bud Light faced similar backlash for partnering with trans influencer and model Dylan Mulvaney in an Instagram video. The 26-year-old TikTok star revealed her new sponsorship deal with the beer company when she filmed herself with multiple cans of Bud Light. The brand had also sent her a can of Bud Light with her face on it.
The video instantly received backlash from conservative politicians and celebrities, including Kid Rock and Travis Tritt.
Others called for a boycott of the beer, and filmed videos of themselves smashing or shooting at cases of Budweiser products. Anheuser-Busch, the producer of Budweiser beers, issued a statement in response to the boycott, saying that they “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”
That same month, the actor also faced transphobic backlash for her partnership with Nike. In response, the sportswear brand wrote in the pinned comments of one of its social media posts: “You are an essential component to the success of your community! We welcome comments that contribute to a positive and constructive discussion. Be kind…Be inclusive…Encourage each other…Hate speech, bullying, or other behaviours that are not in the spirit of a diverse and inclusive community will be deleted.”
The Independent has contacted Adidas for comment.
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