I’ve noticed a worrying trend in fashion marketing recently. Since Miley Cyrus twerked her way through 2013 and Robin Thicke sung the infectiously catchy Blurred Lines, casual misogyny has permeated popular culture. That’s not to say that sexism wasn’t around long before Thicke and Cyrus, however the representation of female sexuality has become ugly and aggressive.
Take this advert for Pretty Little Thing, an online retailer aimed at women in their late teens to early 20s. The model writhing around to pugnacious rap in skimpy outfits is one thing, but the smug voice over at the end captions the obvious – this young woman is a ‘thing’.
There are, unfortunately, many examples of women being objectified in fashion advertising, however this takes it a new level. What is worrying is that this is clearly aimed at very young women who are more prone to insecurity. When I was in my teens and early twenties I was vulnerable to the insidious messages that the industry churns out. I pored over fashion magazines and books with voracious curiosity, hungry for new trends and beautiful, vintage imagery. However, the message behind the contemporary images was clear. Be thin or be nothing. Exposure to such unrealistic ideals had a negative effect on me; I was convinced that I was too fat when I was actually pretty slim. This led to some unhealthy and destructive behaviour. With age and experience I have accepted my body for what it is – not perfect but healthy. I now know that I am good enough and not an object to be leered at. I can see fashion imagery for what it is – fantasy. The photos in magazines are intended to inspire rather that to damage. However, I still have an uneasy relationship with the industry because I know first hand how destructive it can be.
The Pretty Little Thing ad is in the Cyrus family of aggressive sexuality. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being overtly sexual per se, but the message of this ad is that in order to be a ‘pretty little thing’ girls should to put their body and sensuality on display for the world to gawk at. If I had a daughter I would be worried about her being exposed to this sort of nasty, negative advertising. I suspect what they were going for was a ‘fierce’ Lady Gaga or Beyonce vibe. Alas, it falls short at just being gross.
I’ve checked out the Pretty Little Thing site and the clothes are actually ok. There are lots of cute, affordable pieces for young women under the age of 25. Not all of it looks like Miley Cyrus’s costumes, however all the clothes used in the ad are of a more pornographic bent (in my humble view). It would be great if advertisers and the media in general could stop appealing to the lowest common denominator and parading women’s bodies around like cattle at a market. However, sex sells. It’s an irrefutable fact and has been so since time immemorial. But the current brand of sex for sale is unpleasant and unnecessarily confrontational.