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Partridge Lives

Written July 2024

Alan Partridge had a flair for misreading an audience, and for being the living embodiment of cringe. I think he now works as head of marketing for lingerie firm, Bluebella. Because only someone with Partridge levels of ineptitude and unawareness could possibly have conceived of the latest instalment to the brand’s campaign entitled #strongisbeautiful.


Women’s sport has been one of the main issues at the heart of the pushback against trans ideology, with many courageous, strong women leading the charge to keep men – who call themselves trans – from being allowed to compete against women. Dignified, dedicated sportswomen like Riley Gaines, Sharron Davies, and Martina Navratilova have bravely challenged the absolute madness that has seen men and boys stealing winning places from women and girls, and they have faced considerable hate and abuse for doing so. The fight for keeping women’s sport for women is a fight that should never have been needed. How did any sports governing body ever deem it acceptable to allow boys to compete against girls, and men against women? In addition to the obvious and clear unfairness, it also poses a serious and credible threat to safety. Despite this seeming obvious to any ordinary, balanced human being, it has taken gargantuan efforts to turn the tide, and there is still a way to go. Corporations such as Nike have not helped, and proved to be unsupportive of women and girls by choosing to platform men like Dylan Mulvaney, who they paid to model their range of women’s sportswear, including bras.


So, to say that women have felt marginalised, humiliated, and unsupported in the sporting world is somewhat of an understatement. It is perhaps unsurprising that research by Women in Sport found that 43% of girls disengaged with sport once leaving primary education, and amongst the reasons given were feeling judged while being watched playing sport, and body image issues. Encouragement and support for women and girls in sport, coming from commercial brands and corporations could, then, provide a much-needed boost. Quite, though, why Bluebella saw themselves as the brand to step up to the plate is somewhat baffling. According to the brand, the campaign is about showing women that “strength and femininity” go “hand in hand”. Honourable intention, for sure.

However, there is an issue with Bluebella trying to achieve this using their own merchandise, since they are a lingerie firm whose target market, if their website and this campaign are anything to go by, is women with a proclivity for underwear that skirts the edges of bondage-wear. To their credit, Bluebella does stock UK sizes 6 – 20, so everyone can be catered for. Even, no doubt, ‘trans folks’ – unsurprisingly, Bluebella are as captured as the majority of their fellow retail brands: “What does Pride mean to you? To love freely, live life authentically and celebrate diversity without fear? We agree”, so states the dedicated Pride section of their website.


Partridge and his crack team of marketeers excelled themselves in the art of not reading the room, and in a move that could not possibly be more tone deaf, the #strongisbeautiful latest episode sees three members of the Rugby Sevens Women’s team, Celia Quansah, Ellie Boatman and Jasmin Joyce, at a rugby training session, donning nothing but pieces from Bluebella’s collections. Yes, the very same skirting-on-bondage-wear lingerie collections. In the full video, the women are leaping, diving, lifting each other, even going in for a mock scrum, wearing nothing but bras and pants, of the most unsporting variety. Even the stills more resemble an ad for Ann Summers, rather than an empowering message of feminism. Some extreme caution has obviously been necessary with the camerawork, as frankly, I’d be enormously surprised if the garments they are passing off as bras would, shall we say, perform their function during such exertions. I’d imagine there were more than a few ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ during filming. This campaign is quite possibly as far from a feminist message as it is possible to get. It is regressive and objectifying.  It is like a porn addict’s wet dream.  


This is not the first time Bluebella have partnered with sportswomen, including a former Lioness and some synchronised swimmers. The difference, however, is that the images for these previous campaigns were not semi-pornographic, and not targeted for such obvious titillation. Fara Williams MBE, the footballer who appeared in Bluebella’s campaign in 2023 is wearing clothes over some rather more tasteful underwear from Bluebella’s collections, and in 2021 synchronised swimmers Kate Shortman and Izzy Thorpe wore something like bikinis, which while were quite revealing, at least had a modicum of connection to their sport. The same cannot be said for the Rugby Sevens campaign.


Riley, Sharron, Martina, have all delivered powerful, inspiring messages to women and girls about women in sport, and they managed, by the way, to achieve this without getting their kits off. And all three, are the very picture of beauty and femininity. You see, Bluebella, beauty and femininity are not about what men want. That is the bloody point! Being a woman is what makes a person feminine. Not lingerie. Not dresses and make up. Not performing the ideal of what a man thinks a woman is. Femininity can be expressed by butch women, femme women, straight women, and lesbian women. Any women at all.


I have no doubt athletes like Celia Quansah, Ellie Boatman and Jasmin Joyce welcome the financial boost, since female sport is not exactly known for its high salaries. But this is surely an opportunity for more suitable brands to step in to support and celebrate the true strength of women and girls in sport. This time, sadly, it has been handed wholesale to men, to butcher and churn out as a man’s ideal of ‘femininity’. Slow claps all round.

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