Female imagery in the surf industry

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What would you say if I said that surfing could be sexist? Most people would probably say ‘hmmm, I hadn’t really given it any thought’. I was in exactly the same position about a month ago when TAKK did a TEDx talk (to be released shortly) and we received feedback on some of the slides we used of female surfers. Although the photographs had been given to us by our female ambassadors, some audience members felt that the bikini shots were sexist when shown next to the headshots of male surfers.

(Words by Louise)

This really opened our eyes to an area of surfing we hadn’t even thought about, so we thought it would be an interesting point to discuss.

Challenging Stereotypes

Ask most people what a female surfer looks like and they will probably say: blonde, tanned, hot body. That is an overwhelming image that has been with us for decades, slowly seeping into our minds from the media. It is something that subconsciously bounced around in my brain as I started surfing in my 40s (discussed in another post: Taking up Surfing at 40). Ungracefully stomping into freezing English water in January wearing a full winter suit, gloves and boots, I couldn’t have been further from the glossy images I had imagined of a gorgeous girl skipping across the sand clutching a surfboard (which, actually was much harder to manoeuvre across the windy beach than I had thought it would be).

All in all, while I was dealing with the post-surf chilblains, it was probably the most unsexy I think I had ever felt.

This is where my eyes have been opened recently - Yes there are loads of surfers out there like me. There are surfers of all ages, colours, sizes, religions, backgrounds. Good Surfers, bad surfers, beginners just like me. Where are they hiding? Well, when you look, they are everywhere to be found and hopefully over time we can change the misconception that surfing is only for the young and beautiful.

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We asked TAKK Ambassador, Mathilde Hamdi, a few questions on the subject:

What role, in your opinion, has social media played in this misconception that all female surfers look the same?

“The sad but true fact with Instagram is that yes, the less you wear the more it works. If you compare the number of likes between a picture of a girl rippiiiiing and a girl wearing a cheeky bikini you can see that the bikini shot will get many, many more likes.

In the south west of France, there are a tons of “female surf influencers” who do photoshoots all the time… but I feel, if you don’t like it, just don’t follow it! I’ll try this week to put a picture of me just in a bikini, not surfing but just ‘enjoying the beach life’ and I’m pretty sure it’ll have more likes than my biggest surf pictures! That’s how social media works… But you know what? Let’s not care about it! When you realise Instagram is just not real life, then it doesn’t matter at all - take the fun part of it and forget about the rest!”

Mathilde says it is an unfortunate fact that a social media post of her body is likely to get a lot more 'likes' than a picture of her surfing (above)

Do you actually surf in a bikini?

“I used to live for 4 years in Central America, where I was wearing mostly bikinis and loved it so much! I wish I could still live like this as wearing and surfing in bikinis is awesome! It’s not sexist to show women doing their sport in bikinis, but it could be sexist to show pictures of guys surfing in boardshorts while the girl is on the beach wearing a bikini but not surfing (some of the big brands do it all the time).

I can understand the feeling of many people about female surfers in bikinis. I do sometimes see pictures that are too intense or too sexy of some girls and I don’t like it, but I respect their choice about how they want to use their image and body on social media (eg: the Coffey Sisters). If I don’t like it, I am free not to follow them, instead of judging or being a hater.”

Are you seeing any movement towards more diversity?

“A French photographer, Cecilia Thibier (@ceciliaphotographie) did an amazing shoot last summer with French surfer girls with all different bodies to show the diversity of girls in the water, not only perfect skinny tanned blondes! The pictures are awesome and my 2 best friends were part of this shoot.”

What about Female Surfers endorsing products?

“I am sponsored by OY Surf Apparel, an amazing surf bikinis brand, and I’ve always been happy to do some pictures for them. Even when I feel like I’m not in a good shape, or not as fit as I used to be… yes, women’s bodies can change all the time.

What I don’t like is when surf brands use model girls for their shootings (girls that don’t surf at all but are pretty) while there are so many surfer girls of all type that could do the job, and maybe represent better what real surfers look like.

I think that to do a nice shoot, you have to meet a nice photographer that wants to show the beauty of the woman, not the sexy part of it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable to do sexy shots and if someone offers me a shoot and I don’t feel like I love their work, then I don’t do it. Life is made of choices.”

Final Thought

This is a topic that could be discussed endlessly and we are aware that we can only scratch the surface in such a short article. Mathilde’s thoughts on the subject really helped to give an insider’s view on the matter. How female surfers look should, ideally, be less of an issue and I will definitely be showing my daughter that it’s not all glamour in the water and we should be focusing on the amazing buzz you get from surfing and just being in nature, regardless of your shape or size.

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