I’m conflicted about Calvin Klein’s recent Instagram post featuring Bella Hadid, Abby Champion, and Alana Arrington lunging while holding on to poles—that’s poles, as in pole dancing. The point of the photo was to focus on Calvin Klein’s workout essentials, the scene wasn’t atypical of a pole dancing class as far as the movement goes, and it’s good for the on going quest to normalize pole dancing. However, the brand missed an opportunity to actually represent the pole dancing community in an authentic way.
I have nothing against the models, but I have been pole dancing since 2011 (and even teach it occasionally) and that photo is not the reality of what pole dance classes tend to look like. Diversity has become such a buzzword that it has gotten trite, but in this case, Calvin Klein missed the opportunity to genuinely connect with a consumer base that is actually big on diversity as well as athletic apparel.
I scrolled the comments and have seen a mix of reactions. Some people are excited that a major brand like this would feature pole dancing from an athletic perspective. I understand that, which is why I’m conflicted because on the service, it was a cool move. When I started pole dancing, the industry, as far as fitness, was still very young, but the mission for many of its industry leaders was to remove the negative stigma or to at least get people to understand that pole is a sport and that it’s diverse. Pole dancing varies in style from Chinese Pole, to stripper style (which is how everyone regards it), to contemporary dance and actual pole competitions, to TV/Film and stunt double work, to straight up athletics—there is even a movement to get pole into the Olympics. Actual pole classes tend to feature a wide range of races, ethnicities and body types from slim to plus size because that’s the world we live in and that is why I’m annoyed with the photo at the same time.
A cursory IG search of popular hashtags in the pole community like, #PoleDancersOfIG, #PoleDanceNation, or even #BlackGirlsPole will yield varied results in the types of people and bodies you see. Many people in the pole dancing community have stories about how participating in the art form helped them overcome eating disorders, depression, with fitness goals and more. For many, pole dancing is the gateway into other forms of fitness and with a hardcore life of exercise and movement comes the need for gear.
Pole dancers in particular are big on performance wear. We love functional breathable, durable gear from leggings to shorts to sports bras—stretchy things that work well in layers. We’re also big on word of mouth. All it takes is for one person to show up to class wearing a great pair of harem pants or leggings, a nice peach hugged by the right shorts, or a nice loose shirt that’s warm enough for a chilly pole studio but easy enough to remove when class starts to heat up, and we are sold. So many brands have gained traction in the pole community in that way but we have to see ourselves represented first.
I have my staple brands for fitness gear and never would have even considered Calvin Klein as a contender for a brand that makes activewear in my size. I didn’t even know that that made active wear and I definitely didn’t know that they catered to my size group (12/XL). Imagine all the other women like me who aren’t sample size that could have been potential customers. In 2019, brands have to do more than just post pretty pictures, it’s about consumer experience and inclusion as a growth strategy.
But again, it was a missed opportunity. No one really knows what goes on inside of marketing meetings except for the people in those meetings, but basic market research would have shown them exactly how to connect with one of the most popular, but also most attacked and misunderstood communities on IG. It is because of being misunderstood that pole dancers have a better understanding of what inclusion should look like and this wasn’t it.