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This article was created in paid partnership with SK-II.
Simone Biles’ “VS Trolls,” a new short film in SK-II STUDIO’s “VS Series,” opens with a relatable live-action shot of Simone Biles — the most decorated Olympic gymnast in American history: She’s stretching on the floor and idly scrolling on her phone. From there, the film cuts to an animated version of Biles posting a photo of herself on social media. Despite the change, the scene still feels familiar, as we watch Biles sit on her bed, refreshing the post and reading comments as they flow in.
Everything about the moment is impressively realistic — one of Biles’ real-life French bulldogs, Lilo, is pictured in the background of her bedroom, and Biles’ features are thoughtfully reminiscent of how she looks in real life. Amid a backdrop of dreamy and ethereal music, Biles’ positive comments take the shape of small yellow and orange creatures, leaping out of her phone to tell her things like, “You’re amazing!!” and, “I wanna be like you when I grow up!”
As the film goes on, however, a plethora of internet trolls appear in the form of small green gremlins. They criticize Biles’ appearance and body shape with comments like, “LOL what’s up with your hair??” and, “your arms are SOOOO big” — causing her to put her hair into a ponytail or wear a jacket to hide her arms. While the short features a mix of reality and fantasy, the experience it draws from is firmly based in reality, alluding to specific instances in Biles’ life when she was cyberbullied for the size of her arms, her hair and her overall appearance.
When it comes to social media and how it affects our body image, women have always faced immense challenges. From being bombarded with image after image of unrealistic beauty standards to being mocked for our appearances, social media has been shown to disproportionately harm women, especially in our teen or formative adolescent years. Unsurprisingly, much of that harm comes from cyberbullying — a cultural phenomenon young women are three times more likely to experience than men.
And as the world shifted online to cope with the circumstances of COVID-19 this past year, cyberbullying has drastically increased — placing even more pressure on women to maintain their appearances while battling self-doubt and insecurity. It’s this context that makes Biles’ actions throughout the film even more relatable, showing how even a decorated Olympian isn’t free from the societal constraints that come with being a woman in today’s world.
For the remainder of the five-minute short, the internet trolls chase Biles as she runs through the streets on the way to her gymnastics training gym. But the sequence culminates in an immersive, climactic moment once Biles reaches her gym: She throws her phone in frustration, and a gigantic, monstrous green troll steps out. As she turns to run away, she catches sight of a shelf that holds all the medals Biles had won at the time of production, as well as a handwritten note from her mom that reads, “Be the best Simone you can be.” In the shelf’s glass case, Biles also sees a reflection of herself in the Dancing in the Stars dress where she had been body shamed. The symbols ultimately give Biles the strength to stand up to and beat the massive troll — a feat reflected in Biles’ own attitude toward putting cyberbullies in their place online.
Each of the six animated shorts in SK-II’s new “VS Series” features a different Olympic athlete tackling other societal pressures women experience in their careers, like image obsession or limitations. The “VS” anthology frames each of these pressures as a “kaiju,” which translates to “strange beast” in Japanese; each “kaiju” represents an inner demon the athletes must overcome to achieve their dreams. Other films in the series feature swimmer Liu Xiang, table tennis player Ishikawa Kasumi, badminton duo Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, surfer Mahina Maeda, and the Japanese Volleyball team Hinotori Nippon.
Created to inspire and connect, the films do an excellent job of both with their purpose-led storytelling. In Biles’ case, for instance, the short illustrates the inordinate scrutiny women athletes face around their appearance, gives viewers the strength to rise up against their trolls, and even humanizes a celebrity figure as famous as Biles — all in five minutes.
Directed by SK-II STUDIO, each episode features a thrilling blend of sci-fi, fantasy, action and sports. The series was produced by award-winning animation studios Imaginary Forces, Passion Pictures, Platige Image and C3. Original music from John Legend and Lexie Liu weaves throughout the series, creating a dreamy, surreal atmosphere that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. To further support the cause at the center of the “VS Series,” SK-II has also set up a #CHANGEDESTINY Fund to accompany the film. The company will contribute $1 for every view on SK-II STUDIO films in support of women pursuing their dreams to create positive change until the fund reaches $500,000 USD.
While the “VS Series” is newly launched, this is not the first time SK-II is entering untapped territory. Directed by the award-winning film director Hirokazu Koreeda, the brand’s debut docu-drama “The Center Lane” told the inspiring story of swimmer Ikee Rikako’s return to competitive swimming after her battle with leukemia. By bringing together entertainment and purpose, SK-II has demonstrated time and again how #CHANGEDESTINY has long been at the heart of SK-II’s intention.
Yoegin Chang, senior brand director, Global SK-II, co-founder of SK-II STUDIO, puts it best: “As we engage with our consumers, what we hear from them is not just how SK-II is transforming their skin to Crystal Clear but more importantly, how SK-II has impacted their life. With the pandemic, consumers have even higher expectations from brands and businesses to show empathy and have a clear point of view, especially on social issues and topics like sustainability. At SK-II, we believe that destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice. We are committed to bring to life our purpose — Changing Destiny of Skin, Life and Planet through every act of our brand.”
Delphine Buttin, senior brand director, Global SK-II, co-founder of SK-II STUDIO added, “We hope these films can help spark meaningful conversations around those social pressures women face and be a starting point for us — brands and businesses — to come together and act as a force for good and growth to create positive and meaningful change.”
Watch all six powerful “VS Series” films at SK-II.com, then head “backstage” in the brand’s virtual SK-II City inspired by the streets of Tokyo where you can join an exclusive tour of the thrilling world of each superhero Olympic athlete in the “VS Series.”
For nearly 40 years, SK-II has touched the lives of millions of women around the world through skin and life transformation. The fascinating story behind SK-II began with a quest to understand why elderly sake brewers had wrinkled faces, but extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands. These hands were in constant contact with the sake fermentation process. It took years of research for scientists to isolate the miracle ingredient PITERA™, SK-II’s exclusive and naturally derived ingredient crafted from a proprietary fermentation process of a unique yeast strain. Since then, SK-II with PITERA™1 has become a special secret shared by celebrities all over the world such as Tangwei, Ni Ni, Chun Xia, Haruka Ayase, Kasumi Arimura, Naomi Watanabe, Chloe Grace Moretz. For the latest news and in-depth information, please visit http://www.sk-ii.com.
#CHANGEDESTINY is at the heart of the SK-II brand philosophy that celebrates how destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. Inspired by the stories of women from around the world, #CHANGEDESTINY sheds light on the pressures they face and the universal ‘box’ they are put in to be perfect in society’s eyes. Award-winning #CHANGEDESTINY campaigns include 2016’s “Marriage Market Takeover” that put a spotlight on the labels of “Sheng Nu” or “Leftover Women” in China, 2017’s “The Expiry Date”, 2018’s “Meet Me Halfway” and 2019’s “Timelines” a docu-series in partnership with Katie Couric about the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations women face globally.
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