Equinox Billboard “Too Sexist” for Some Bethesda Residents

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A group of concerned citizens in Bethesda, Maryland is demanding that a local Equinox gym take down a billboard, which they say promotes "a not-so-subtle sexism that infects our culture and degrades an entire gender."

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The image was shot by bad boy photographer Terry Richardson, who is famous for making a bikini video of then 19-year-old Kate Upton which was pulled from YouTube in less than 24 hours for inappropriate content. The billboard shows a woman in a mini-dress and high heels on her hands and knees grasping a pool cue along with the caption, "Dexterity."

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The group, which calls itself Sexism Matters, launched a blog and a petition on Change.org on June 28. So far, the petition has received nearly 300 signatures. It reads, in part:

"Our children shouldn't be subjected to this. Our female friends and family shouldn't be viewed like this, nor forced to conform to it. Our male partners and colleagues shouldn't be boxed in to thinking this is normal. This is the kind of not-so-subtle sexism that infects our culture, and degrades an entire gender….

We work out to stay healthy. We go to the gym to become stronger. We celebrate our bodies' abilities on the track, in the pool, and on the court. We do NOT accept the excuses. We will NOT tolerate this billboard. And, we will NOT be joining your gym. We are all too busy working, running, teaching, living, and laughing to be seen as objects."

Equinox hired Richardson to shoot the ad campaign, his third for the company, in January. The series of photographs feature a male and female model in suggestive, non-athletic poses in a sleek, modern home in the Hollywood Hills. One picture shows a woman from the waist down walking up a staircase wearing only black underwear and heels with the caption, "Stair Master." At the time, some Equinox members took to the gym's Facebook page to ask what racy shots of skinny models in skimpy dresses had to do with getting fit. One commenter wrote, "These women do not look fit-so thin and lank looking! And at least for our gym, this self-obsessed need-to-be-voraciously-predatorily-sexy thing is out of place…" Another commented, "Another couple million spent on the degradation of women. Good work fitness guys."

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"Bethesda is really our town square. We go there with small children. We go there with our families," Pam Holland, a mother from Chevy Chase, one of the people who spearheaded the petition, told WTOP News. "My daughter and her friends walk there from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School and we just can't avoid the image," she added. The woman who launched Sexism Matters (she asked not to have her name used) told Yahoo! Shine, "Different communities should be able to say what they will and will not tolerate in their environs and the Bethesda community is not okay with this image. The area is absolutely a gathering place for families. Young professionals and families with kids go there on the weekends. There are bookstores, and street fairs almost every weekend. It's different from LA or Downtown Manhattan. It's a place where I want to raise my kids."

Speaking with WTOP, another resident, retired attorney Deborah Vollmer concurred, saying, "I think it's a sexist ad. I'm not too happy to see it." However she qualified her statement by adding, "But I also agree strongly in the First Amendment and freedom of expression."

Equinox has not responded to Shine's request for comment, but the elite gym (memberships cost about $120-$180 per month with a $600 initiation fee) hasn't shied from controversy in the past and the company's creative director Bianca Kosoy specifically chooses provocateurs like Richardson to shoot their campaigns. Past ads have also been called sexist and offensive. In 2012, the told the New York Times that the ads were like "gatekeepers" that separated out potential clients who might not be (what Equinox deems) hip or edgy enough for the brand. "We know we're not for everyone. Either you get it or you don't."