A sense of shame is nothing of which to be ashamed. Shame and modesty are not in principle oppressive. On the contrary, they are the means by which children learn to grow up, and to handle their emergence as sexual beings with responsibility. They are the cultural codes that help keep women safe. It is shamelessness that is really shameful, and Adidas’s cynical exploitation of the female body for commercial gain is a prime example. The company should be, well, ashamed of itself.
Last week, Adidas released its new sports bra line with an ad campaign that features pictures of twenty-five pairs of naked breasts. The campaign has ignited a debate predictable in both its polarization and its content, with the focus on whether the nudity is appropriate.
The ads may be just another sad example of an attempt to grab public attention without the inconvenience of using much imagination or effort. But they also bear witness to an era in which a sports clothing company cannot rest content with doing what it has always done—selling sports clothing—but has to teach the rest of us how to think about life.
In a telling Twitter exchange, Adidas declared that “breasts are a natural part of the anatomy. It’s time to remove the stigma to allow future generations to flourish.” A follow-up tweet added that “it’s important to normalize the human body and help inspire future generations to feel confident and unashamed.” There is an odd irony here, given that a product designed in part to keep breasts private surely either indicates the importance of privacy or militates against the “normalization” the campaign claims to be promoting. And it is interesting that in our society, someone can claim with a straight face that this kind of campaign is removing some stigma rather than cynically using women’s bodies to boost profit margins. But beyond the irony, Adidas is playing to the intuitions of a culture that has lost all notion of modesty.
Modesty, in an odd inversion, is now seen as shameful, unnatural, and a stigma, no less. This makes sense at a cultural level. Performance, not formation, is now the order of the day, with YouTube and TikTok being far more important to self-image and self-understanding than families, schools, or nations.