Can retail advertisements featuring female models be too sexy? According to American Apparel, the answer is no, probably not. The retail store has been knocked for some racy ads featuring very young models who are being sexualized, and a majority of nudity as opposed to featuring the actual apparel that is being sold. I’m arguing that these images are sexualizing young female models instead of selling clothes. After pushing the boundaries more and more, some ads have been banned overseas, perhaps because they are uncomfortable when they see butts and breasts instead of clothes, or perhaps it’s because the females are being misrepresented. “The U.K. agency thinks the ad is more focused on ‘butts’ and ‘groins’ than the clothing advertised, and so, for the sixth time in two-and-a-half years, it banned an American Apparel ad this week…” (Pasulka 1) This is an ad that focuses on the “Back to School” promotion, and the images feature a girl bent over in a plaid mini-skirt, so the photo is mostly her panties and behind instead of the actual skirt. This type of advertising can be considered examples of, “…the ‘pornographication’ of everyday life, the rise of ‘raunch’ and, when the representational practices of ‘porno chic’ are used on children and teens, ‘corporate pedephilia’.” (Gill 38-9) The retail store argues that the ads are allowing women to be open about their sexuality and their bodies, however, the way the female body is placed in the ads objectifies the women instead.
Analyzing the images from “The 10 Most Controversial American Apparel Ads” from Time Magazine, nudity is the first thing you get. A female model who is modeling thigh-high socks is wearing absolutely nothing else. The photo is sexualized because its aesthetics are similar to a candid photo taken by a lover after sex, but that’s just my opinion. Another image shows a woman wearing only panties licking a man’s groin. The ad isn’t promoting any clothes, but instead the locations of American Apparel retail stores. If those little details were left out of the webpage, it could possibly be mistaken for a porno site. “Many of the images used by American Apparel to sell women’s clothing portray models in extremely provocative poses, in various stages of undress.” (Brugnoli-Ensin 1) These provocative poses can include women, usually with nothing on below the waist, with open legs, or legs pointing straight up. “While this photo lacks explicit nudity or allusions to sexual acts, this ad was banned in the UK because the Advertising Standards Authority thought the model’s pose was ‘gratuitous… overtly sexual and that they demeaned women.’” (Stampler 1) The other ads with nudity, such as no pant and no underwear were considered “exploitative” considering the women in the ads should be considered teenagers because they appear to look about 15 years old.
Some ad campaigns focus on young students and also bring in the element of mastubration in photos. With female models once again, naked except for panties. We can start to conclude that these ads portray, “..sexualized representations of women in the media…as passive, mute objects of an assumed male gaze.” (Gill 42) Some of the female models who pop up in ads are also porn stars, such as Faye Raegan. Other ads, which are attempting to sell socks, also include photos of females that have little relation to the socks, “It’s ironic how these ads to sell clothes often times feature so little of it. Sometimes, in fact, these photos cross the line into nudity, or even borderline on pornographic. Is it truly necessary for the woman modeling tights to be topless?” (Brugnoli-Ensin 1) When women aren’t alone in the ads, they appear to be fornicating with men, “sex and the male torso play prominent roles in American apparel ads.” (Stampler 1) There is nothing wrong with images of sex and masturbation, however, when people are shopping for clothes, they want to see the clothes instead of half-naked young girls in nothing but a pair of tights.
These advertisements are selling a lifestyle idea, that sexual exploitation is fashionable while being backed-up by the right brand of clothing. The ads are hypersexual, and even though not all have explicit nudity, they are still considered demeaning to women. The CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney was fired for, “due to an “ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.” (Stampler 1) So the seedy and sexist ideas are internal as well as external.
Brugnoli-Ensin, Mia. “American Apparel: Sexist or Liberating?” Her Campus. 9
March. 2014. Web.
Gill, Rosalind. “Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in
Contemporary Advertising.” Feminism & Psychology. 18.1 (2008): 35-60.
Pasulka, Nicole. “Appalling Apparel? U.K. Bans American Apparel Ads for the
Sixth Time.” takepart. 3 September. 2014. Web.
Stampler, Laura. “The 10 Most Controversial American Apparel Ads.” Time. 19 June. 2014. Web.