There's More Than Body Positivity Hiding in the Latest Nike Women Ad

Intersectionality, Vodou roots and more await

Ahead of the Women's World Cup, and following its show-stopping "Dream Crazier" ad narrated by Serena Williams, Nike brings us "We Have Always Done It." 

Directed by Prettybird's Eloise King, this study in self-love stars Belen Leroux, hypnotically moving to "We've Always Done It," a poem written and performed by Abondance Matanda, with original music from Asriel Hayes.

"The team behind this project were totally intersectional: black, people of color, white and queer and non-binary, men and women, which reflects both my practice ethos and collaborative approach that balance can create better," King says of her work. 

The piece features Nike's FK FEnom Bra, and accompanies a promotion in Paris for the Women's World Cup. It veritably explodes with women of color and the natural diversity of their body shapes, not always considered "athletic." 

It's a mood in keeping with the moment women's underwear is having right now. Egged on by Aerie and body-frank period panty brands like Thinx, the sector's currently exploding with competition. 

While Victoria's Secret holds nearly one-third of the market, it may not for long. Women and girls aren't interested in being compared to Adriana Lima anymore, and the brand's struggling with understanding that. (Vanessa Friedman called its aesthetic "white, worked-out, boob-centric and essentially about naughty maid role play in the bedroom.") 

Meanwhile, Target's coming for it, but that's only one side of the invasion. Berlei released an ad that exposes how much work women do to make their boobies outside-friendly. ThirdLove, a body-positive lingerie startup, scored $55 million in funding in the past month. 

This is just the tip of an iceberg whose nuances can't be understood with phrases like "body positivity." Aerie's 2018 summer campaign featured models with disabilities. Mothercare promotes and celebrates the post-childbirth body. Arpita Ganesh, founder of lingerie brand Buttercups—65 percent of whose sales come from plus-sized lingerie—observed that "most lingerie brands are run by men who don't understand how women's sizing has changed." 

An argument can be made that Nike's made many contributions to this sea change, despite struggles supporting women within its own company. In 2017, Nike released a panoply of localized women-oriented ads across multiple markets, each vibrating to its own rhythm of empowerment. 

But "We Have Always Done It" draws a clearer line between the brand and body positivity; as Matanda says at one point, "It's always been our birthright to love and listen to our bodies." 

It also bears vestiges of the mystical, nodding not only to yoga culture but to the resurgence of witchcraft, which pushes against male-god religions in favor of the divine feminine. This movement is fueled by many things; #MeToo, efforts by minority groups to find empowerment in hostile climes, and the return to popularity of spiritual works like Women Who Run with the Wolves, which explores the "wild woman" archetype. 

"Since our beginnings, we've always wanted more," Matanda says at the video's start. "From before we was born, already knowing what to do: dividing the cells, curling up, then busting out and greeting the world as sacred beings, divining what would be necessary to survive." 

Meanwhile, Leroux moves with growing intensity, transitioning from home at dawn, to open spaces with other moving women. She finishes alone on a rooftop, dancing fast now under a setting sun, her eye contact with the camera alert and direct. 

The movement never ceases, building and concentrating energy. 

King drew inspiration from performance artist Sagg Napoli, and Maya Deren's study of Vodou in Haiti. The press release quotes Deren's celebration of what Vodou represents: "Women as the divinity of the dream a goddess of love the muse of beauty ... in a sense is the very principle by which man conceives and creates divinity … her arrival pervades the very air, all anxieties and urgencies vanish. The tempo of movements become more leisurely and tensions dissolve." 

The inspiration is apt; often, sacredness rises from what is suppressed. "From periods to mental health, girl's health is something that affects half the planet and is still largely seen as a taboo subject," King says. 

"This film is set in the near future, where cultural and societal barriers have been reconfigured and women are free to reimagine themselves," she adds. "Harnessing the ultimate potential to transcend limitations—be it the social inequality, the stigma of wild women, instead embracing their strengths, to push the narrative beyond dreams fulfilled—into a new dimension of dreams yet to be."

CREDITS

Client: Nike 
Production Company: Prettybird U.K. 
Director: Eloise King 
Co-Founder U.K./ Executive Producer: Juliette Larthe 
Head of Production: Hannah May 
Producer: Hannah Bellil
Production Assistant: Chris Murdoch
1st Assistant Director: Will Jasper
Director of Photography: Amelia Hazlerigg

Featured Artist: Belen Leroux 
Supporting Artist 1: Tanya Compas
Supporting Artist 2: Jess Young 
Supporting Artist 3: Cherelle Brown
Supporting Artist 4: Abondance Matanda 

Original Music written & Produced by: Asriel Haynes
Poem written and spoken by: Abondance Matanda

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.