Equinox gym is being accused of sexism, thanks to the giant photo of a woman wearing a skintight minidress erected in a high-traffic area of Bethesda, Maryland. It's the latest backlash against the company's racy branding efforts.
A group of activists are calling on the chain of luxury fitness centers to remove the billboard, and to rethink their approach to recruiting new members. The group, which calls itself Sexism Matters, launched a blog and a petition on Change.org on June 28, demanding that a local Equinox gym take down the billboard, which they say promotes "a not-so-subtle sexism that infects our culture and degrades an entire gender." So far, the petition has received more than 300 signatures.
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The ad, shot by controversial photographer Terry Richardson, features a model in a skimpy minidress and heels, on her hands and knees on top of a pool table grasping a cue, along with the caption, "Dexterity." Equinox hired Richardson to shoot the ad campaign, his third for the company, in January. The series of photographs shot for this year's campaign all feature a male and a female model in suggestive, nonathletic poses in a sleek modern home in the Hollywood Hills. One picture shows a woman from the waist down, walking up a staircase wearing only black underwear and heels, with the caption "Stair Master."
At the time of its release, Equinox members from major cities across the country took to the gym's Facebook page to ask what racy shots of skinny models in skimpy dresses had to do with getting fit.
One commenter wrote, "These women do not look fit...this self-obsessed need-to-be-voraciously-predatorily-sexy thing is out of place." Another commented, "Another couple million spent on the degradation of women. Good work fitness guys."
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The new petition launched by Sexism Matters goes into greater detail about the problems with Equinox's campaign, and in particular the Bethesda billboard.
"Our children shouldn't be subjected to this. Our female friends and family shouldn't be viewed like this, nor forced to conform to it. Our male partners and colleagues shouldn't be boxed in to thinking this is normal. This is the kind of not-so-subtle sexism that infects our culture, and degrades an entire gender…We work out to stay healthy. We go to the gym to become stronger. We celebrate our bodies' abilities on the track, in the pool, and on the court. We do NOT accept the excuses. We will NOT tolerate this billboard. And, we will NOT be joining your gym. We are all too busy working, running, teaching, living, and laughing to be seen as objects."
Other Bethesda locals have echoed these concerns. "I think it's a sexist ad. I'm not too happy to see it," one area resident told WTOP News. However, she qualified her statement by adding, "But I also agree strongly in the First Amendment and freedom of expression."
The woman who launched Sexism Matters (she asked not to have her name used) told Yahoo! Shine, "Different communities should be able to say what they will and will not tolerate in their environs, and the Bethesda community is not OK with this image. The area is absolutely a gathering place for families. Young professionals and families with kids go there on the weekends. There are bookstores, and street fairs almost every weekend. It's different from downtown in LA or Manhattan. It's a place where I want to raise my kids."
A spokesperson from Equinox told Yahoo! Shine in an email, "The billboard has been up since January and will be coming down mid-July as previously scheduled." While the timing might suggest that the petition is making an impact, don't bet on it. The elite gym (memberships cost about $120-$180 per month, with a $600 initiation fee) hasn't shied from controversy in the past and the company's creative director, Bianca Kosoy, specifically chooses provocateurs like Richardson to shoot its campaigns. Past ads have also been called also been called sexist and offensive. In 2012, she told the New York Times that the ads were like "gatekeepers" that separated out potential clients who might not be (what Equinox deems) hip or edgy enough for the brand. "We know we're not for everyone. Either you get it or you don't."