How Nike, with help from Nathan, finally got it right.

I don’t like the Olympics because they are impossible. The don’t inspire me to greatness. They remind me I’m not.

When I see the Olympics, I don’t think “We’re great!” but instead “I suck.” It’s very similar to what I said a few years ago about beauty products and women; all that perfection has worn me out. Here’s a message to businesses, whether you’re selling sporting goods or beauty products: after a while, the people revolt. Or at least, the cynical ones do.

You can’t sell plus-sized clothing on a size 12 model (plus sized? size 12?), and then pin the jeans on a store rack so a size 18 looks like an 8. You cannot sell calorie-laden chocolate and ice cream using super sexy women because if they ate that ice cream, they wouldn’t be.

You can’t continue to sell perfection.

It isn’t real. Go ahead and wrap all your messages in a subtle package of discontent. Discontent burns out after a while. People can only take guilt and personal disgust for so long before they find another company or group that says “you’re OK as you are.”

So enters Nike — a perpetual offender of the impossible hardcore athlete image — and their “selling greatness” ad campaign during the 2012 Olympics. The commercials were inspiring, properly multi-cultural, properly international, showing people of all ages, and some with disabilities.

And then there was the ad featuring middle-schooler Nathan Sorrell.

He’s 12 years old. He’s the same height as me (5’3″), and he weighs 200 pounds. He’s not a ripped, hard athlete. He isn’t going to look good in a body suit, wet suit, or tiny running shorts. He’s not going to inspire envy, lust, or discontent. He’s average and unspectacular. And, as the voice in the commercial speaks, you see Nathan huffing and puffing, being everything a schoolyard bully would love to sink his teeth into, running down a lonely road. No personal trainer. No competition to lose weight for fame.

It’s spectacular, he’s spectacular, and it’s inspiring.

It is inspiring for those of us who don’t really want to be bystanders, but feel crushed under the images and insinuations of perfection. I know what that kid is depicting — running down a country road, wondering if it’s worth the exhaustion when I still don’t look like how I’m told I should look. It inspires me to continue on at the gym, even though an entire year of steady effort hasn’t amounted to anything. It inspires because it says “hey, anyone can do this, right now, no matter what shape you’re in.” That means me.

Perfection doesn’t motivate everyone; for some of us, it cripples and prevents us from even trying.

So thanks, Nike and Nathan, for actually honestly showing what the “just do it” slogan looks like, after all these years. Finally.

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