Equinox Breastfeeding Ad Stirs Controversy


Equinox, the luxury fitness-club chain known for its provocative advertising, unleashed its new ad campaign this week — and one of the images (above), of a glamorous woman nursing twins at the table of an upscale restaurant, is grabbing the lion’s share of attention, much of it critical.

“What does this have to do with your gym? I’m canceling my membership,” sniped one woman on Equinox’s Facebook page, where the image was posted on Tuesday. Since then, the post has been shared more than 1,400 times, liked more than 5,200, and elicited more than 830 comments. Other naysayers called it “absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “distasteful.” One declared, “It’s inappropriate and disrespectful to other patrons to breastfeed AT the table. There’s a time and a place for everything,” to which Equinox replied, “Try explaining that to an infant.”

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The arresting photo, shot by fashion photographer Steven Klein, features actress and heiress Lydia Hearst posing in an open top, erect and bejeweled, holding a onesie-wearing infant to each breast. The caption reads, “Table for one. Dinner for three. #CommitToSomething.” It’s just one of seven images in the new campaign, selling the idea of commitment — not just to fitness but to anything in life. Other photos depict a screaming feminist activist (portrayed by Bianca Bree, daughter of Jean-Claude Van Damme), a male cheerleader posing with trophies (featuring MMA fighter Alan Jouban), and a woman drinking coffee in her kitchen, surrounded by more than a dozen hairless Sphynx cats. According to Equinox, “All vignettes are a virtuous expression of taking deliberate action, of going ‘all in.’”

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And that notion, when applied to breastfeeding in public, can be extremely divisive — as has been proven again and again through examples of nursing women being scolded and shamed by store managers, restaurant servers, flight attendants, and politicians (including Donald Trump). This ad, in addition to sparking fury on the Equinox Facebook page, has inspired some critical posting on Hearst’s page, as well, with one commenter calling it “Disgusting on two levels,” as such an act would surely cause diners to “lose their appetite,” and because “they aren’t even her kids (gross).”

But Equinox, which has gym locations from New York and Los Angeles to London and Toronto, is no stranger to controversy — with at least one media outlet wondering whether the brand is purposely “milking” it here. The company has even been firing back at Facebook critics by posting comments which, while laced with self-serving corporate speak, consistently side with the mom. To the woman who called the photo “absurd” and “weird” and questioned the appropriateness of nursing in a restaurant: “When you come to work out with us, you’re committed to every exercise. When you have a child, you’re committed to their every need. Commitment doesn’t stop at the club’s doors.” And to the one who asked, “Why is this an ad for a gym?” Equinox replied, “Because attaining any worthwhile goal requires commitment.”

Still, the ad has roused plenty of passionate support as well. Supporters on Hearst’s Facebook page praise her for being a “breastfeeding in public advocate” and for being “beautiful” and “beyond gorgeous” in the photo. On Equinox’s page, one woman wrote, “Contrary to popular belief, some of us breastfeeding mothers are into more than just wearing robes and eating leftover chicken nuggets. We won’t be punished for choosing to breastfeed and we won’t hide as if it’s shameful.”

Another gushed, “OMG yes! I love this ad… We have to show the world that breastfeeding is normal,” while a male fan noted, “I enjoy the fact that such a depiction deeply disturbs a significant number of people, as if there is something offensive about an act of not only nourishment but of love and bonding between mother and her infants. If such a photo provokes that strong of a reaction, then it was successful in breaking through the stupor that those people refer to as their lives.”

And one woman got right to the point: “Love this ad! Targeting women who have just had babies. So smart! The first thing most women want is to be back to their pre-baby bodies… Everyone saying this ad has nothing to do with a gym definitely knows nothing about subliminal messaging and marketing.” To which Equinox replied, “We trust your commitment to understanding us.”

Top photo: Equinox/Facebook

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