A new ad campaign by Skechers takes its popular Shape-Up sneaker and markets it to girls. Skechers' line of "Shape-Up" sneakers was originally targeted solely to women but now includes men's and girls' versions. It promises to burn calories, improve posture, and tone your legs and butt - "all without stepping foot in a gym!" Conspicuously missing from the lineup are boys' Shape-Ups, which only add to the controversy over what, exactly, Shape-Ups are about.
You may recall the Skechers Superbowl commercial with spokesmodel Kim Kardashian in a steamy scene with her "trainer." Complete with sweating, panting, and gratuitous body close-ups, Kardashian coyly tells her trainer that they have to "break up." Flipping her hair and pointing her famous rear at the bewildered "trainer," she looks him up and down and says, "it's not someone, it's something" while kicking her foot behind her so her new Shape-Up can point, well, at her behind.
Although Skechers claims its Shape-Ups are about being healthy, that's not exactly what Kardashian's ad appearance portrays. The message seems to be that thanks to Shape-Ups, her butt looks great, men drool over her, and she doesn't even have to work hard for it. This advertising sells the message that a woman's body is made for adoration and that every woman should want to get into steamy-sex shape with as little work as possible. Unfortunately, there's nothing new about that. Remember Suzanne Somers' "thank you Thighmaster" ads in the early 90s?
And now Skechers brings that same message to girls in shoe sizes that would fit a 7-year-old. In the commercial for girls' Shape-Ups, an enthusiastic cartoon named Heidi sings in front of her adoring fans, "Heidi's got new Shape-Ups, has everything a girl wants, she's got the height, she's got the bounce, she's looking good and having fun!"
As Heidi "bounces" along, a group of schlumpy surly teenage boys dressed in junk food costumes follow after her, presumably, perhaps, indicating that she's "broken up" with them and is moving on to better things now that she's "looking good and having fun."
Like so many other things, something that is good (healthy bodies) is twisted into something that is not (quick fix, appearance-oriented solutions that are just $100 away). As Christians we must think about how we've interacted with a culture that encourages women to pursue fitness in order to look good rather than feel good, mind, body, and soul.
I see many girls and young women whose attitude toward food and fitness is directly related to how they look. I know women who won't miss a workout, even when they are sick. I've known several teenagers who take pride in wearing clothes that they wore in middle school (or before), a testament to their ability to keep a girlish figure against their own biological clock. In both cases, the relentless demands of the perfect figure actually trump healthy choices.
So yes, kid-sized Skechers cause me concern. When I showed the commercial to my 6-year-old daughter, I wondered if she would want "the height and the bounce" and think she needed Skechers to "have everything a girl wants." Instead she looked at me, somewhat bewildered, and said, "I like them because those would be good on the playground and easy to tie." I took a deep breath, ready to lay into Skechers and the problems with this world we live in. But then I stopped. I won't shame or "educate" my daughter for liking them, lest she think that my anger toward this sexualized culture is really anger toward her choices.
The best way to respond to the new kid-size Skechers isn't to ban them from our homes, risking that we communicate to girls that "looking good and having fun" is itself sinful. We must be careful to listen to the messages our girls get from both our words and our lives. And we should use things like Skechers to start conversations with girls about fitness, beauty, and the goodness of bodies. In that conversation, we adult women might realize that we have a lot to learn along with our children.
I wish we lived in a world where Shape-Ups for 7-year-olds would never even enter a marketer's wildest imagination. But since we don't, we should choose to engage - not condemn. The same God who made our bodies curved and beautiful made them strong and resilient. We must not lose one or the other. And if Skechers Shape-Ups force Christian women to face our own body image ambivalence, then so be it.