Voices: Is this the most offensive lingerie ad ever?

Members of Great Britain’s Rugby 7’s team have posed in their knickers in a lingerie ad  (Bluebella)
Members of Great Britain’s Rugby 7’s team have posed in their knickers in a lingerie ad (Bluebella)

Alright, girls? Can you pull up your knickers a bit, darling… and put your arm round your friend? That’s it – show off that pretty little bra. And snap!

This is not a Page Three photoshoot, or an OnlyFans promo. It’s not even a dodgy photographer having his fondest “naive model” fantasies met in an east London studio. In fact, it’s a new ad campaign in which Team GB’s Olympic rugby players pose in lingerie. The hashtag – and these days, there’s always a hashtag – is #strongisbeautiful. And it’s dividing social media.

The brand Bluebella explained itself, saying: “Ahead of an exciting summer of sport, we asked acclaimed international rugby players Celia Quansah, Ellie Boatman and Jasmin Joyce, to come together and celebrate their strength and dedication to their field.”

These powerful and successful sportswomen did this wearing sheer bras, basques, teddies and suspenders, arms entwined on a rugby pitch. Girl power! It is as if we’ve hurtled back in our Hot Tub Time Machine to the ’90s, the last time prancing about in lacy knickers was termed “empowering”, usually by blokes with a magazine to sell.

It’s easy to imagine what spurious arguments were mooted in the lingerie planning meeting – “It shows you can be sporty and feminine!” “It’s a great way to encourage young women into sport!”

It’s not, though, is it? Because while the message that you can be both strong and attractive is a positive one, the women posing are all gorgeous, slim and confident. They may be rugby role models, but a teenager thinking about taking up the sport isn’t going to be swayed by a hot athletic girl in a pricy bra.

As the company correctly points out: “Nearly half of girls drop out of sports after age 13 and are three times more likely to drop out of sports than boys, with self-belief and body image concerns found to be key issues.” But is self-belief found in a tissue-wrapped basque? Is body image improved by clipping on scratchy suspenders? It seems unlikely.

Teen girls are bombarded with sexualised images of perfect female bodies, from Instagram to ads to celebrity shoots. It’s rare to get through a day without witnessing some beauty in her pants, pouting into the ether. It’s well established that these images can trigger anxiety, insecurity and disordered eating.

The lingerie-clad bodies of “strong” women are perfect in a different way – but they still showcase an unattainable goal. Little girls, too, who might dream of scoring a try are ill-served if their role models are posing in G-strings and corsets on the pitch.

Somewhere along the way, the “confidence” message has become hopelessly confused with the “looking sexy” message. You’d expect it of Love Island, where tweakments, mahogany tans and bikinis that are little more than skimpy metallic bunting are standard. But in this insistence, it’s a message so mixed it makes little sense to me.

If strong is beautiful, get strong, and wear whatever you like to hold your boobs steady. Yes, it should be entirely acceptable for young women to have muscles and enjoy chasing a muddy ball and still feel attractive. But there’s no equivalent ad campaign for men, permitting rugby internationals to indulge their whim for sexy underwear so ladies will still like them.

This is not the company’s first rodeo – last year, it was the Lionesses in black lace. But who’s really looking at these images and feeling waves of positivity? I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that it’s not teenage girls.

Apparently, this girl can… as long as she’s wearing sheer lace.