The struggle to be seen and heard is real. The top pro female skateboarders in both park and street disciplines will make their debut in 2020 along with their male counterparts at the Tokyo Olympics, but girls skateboarding is still a rarity in 2019, not the norm. You can’t pick up a skate magazine every month and see images of female skaters each and every time. These female pro athletes continue to fight for equality and media coverage.
Flash back to the seventies. There really isn’t a ton of imagery of women skateboarding half-pipes and pools back in the day. Why? The magazines were looking for shots of guys to use as content, not girls. Do the names Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Tony Hawk ring a bell? Skateboarding was thought of as “something boys do” and perhaps would be looked at as less “core” if there were shots of girls ripping – although they did get some imagery shown sporadically.
If you were one of the very few girls riding pipes and pools back then, chances were a photographer couldn’t sell those images easily, so they didn’t spend much time shooting with you, if any at all.
Some of the top girls skating vert during those late 70’s halcyon days never even had one photo in a magazine during their reign.
Girls with names like Judi, Pattie, Laura, Brenda, Robin, Vicki, Cindy, Edie and more, all contributed so much to this sport, moving away from the realm of freestyle and into into half-pipe and pool.
When an image of any one of these badass women resurfaces nowadays– usually in a women’s magazine accompanying a nice article on girls who paved the way, or in advertising, where again, the female skateboard athlete is celebrated for her achievements and historical contributions, I love seeing it and so do the other women from the 70’s skate scene.
We have a small but close knit sisterhood; we all look out for one another, sing each other praises and are stoked that the imagery we do have, once hidden away, is now celebrated. The image could be of anyone of us, yet we all win when it’s out there and credited appropriately. We self-police sites like Instagram, to make sure the photos of one another are credited accordingly and our history is documented accurately. For now, we are our own historians.
This morning I was trying to catch up and create content for the all girls skate website, “Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word”, when my attention turned to my email – my in-box was filling up with emails and DM’s from people asking if I knew that ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR was using a girls skate photo from the 70’s in their advertising campaign?
People send me tips about girls skateboarding all the time, so this was nothing new…
But this time around I wasn’t quite ready for the image that was being used and the way it was portrayed.
I jumped over to the link and looked at the numerous screen shots in various emails and sure enough, there it was, an illustration of a classic 70’s skate photo that is well known in skateboard circles and beyond. The actual photograph is powerful and unique. Every time I see this image it reminds me there were just a few select young women in the mid 1970’s who were battling the boys club, skating their asses off and staying put in the pool or half-pipe, not caring what the outside world had to say about it. They were blazing a trail and fighting societal norms so that other girls could eventually do what they love.
This particular female skate image has been seen and written about in many magazines, has been displayed at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., celebrated on social media and more.
The original photograph shows a young teenage girl, full of confidence attacking the half-pipe wall like she belongs there, pointing the nose of her board almost straight toward the camera lens as if daring the photographer to a game of chicken. Her right hand is wrapped in a slightly dirty and worn ace bandage, from a previous injury perhaps? The young girl’s red knee pads and blue elbow pads are the kind volleyball players wore back in the day – offering little to no protection from a fall, should one occur. The look on her face spells fierce determination, which is at odds to the dainty pom-poms protruding slightly on the back of her tennis socks. If you look closely you can tell she is wearing headphones taped to her red plastic helmet, making you wonder what music she may be listening to.
It’s the type of image that speaks volumes; you can stare at it over and over again and it makes you feel the power it exudes and makes you long for the 1970’s when skateboarding was mainly for renegades and outcasts.
This image is also an important part of women’s skate history that definitely needs to be preserved and celebrated, along with many other images from the same era.
So when a company like ADOBE, which prides itself on “changing the world through digital experiences” puts out an ad tweaking an historic sports image just enough so the viewer can’t tell whether it’s male or female, that’s when something’s just not right. Sure, I understand that slight changes were made to keep copyright infringements at bay, but what if this was an iconic image of a young female tennis player or ice skater from the 70’s, would the slip up have happened so easily? Probably not – if only because those images may be bit more recognizable to the average person.
What if that image was of Alva, Hawk or Adams (RIP)? Those guys (in Jay Adam’s case his estate) would be defending their likeness left and right – as they should. That is even more reason to make sure we preserve, respect and protect these rare images we do have of the 70’s skater girls who created change and paved the way for the female skateboarders of today.
Now that the mistake has been pointed out, we ask ADOBE not to take down the ad, but instead find a way to publicly celebrate the power of the 70’s female skate scene and the ladies who paved the way.
We want more for the next generation of young girls than to be shadowy, ambiguous figures used in faceless and nameless ads for a powerful and creative company.
It’s the perfect time for ADOBE to use this slip-up to celebrate female empowerment in 2019 and really tell a rad female skate story through creative illustration, because that’s a story that needs to be told, and one many people would love to see!
Don’t you think?
The photograph illustrated in the ABOBE ILLUSTRATOR ad is from circa 1977. The teenage girl skating is Cindy Whitehead, who turned pro a few months after this photo was taken and became one of the top 70’s/80’s USA female skaters for half pipe and pools. Cindy was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2016 and her past and current skate history sits in the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s Sports Collections. Cindy is the author of the girls skateboard book “It’s Not About Pretty” and she speaks out and writes about, gender and equality issues in women’s skateboarding.
Photoshop Side by Side comparison by Judi Oyama
Also published on Medium.