It’s always important to pay attention to how women are represented in the mainstream media. It’s no denying that these images affect how we see ourselves. Nevertheless, we have to maintain a discerning and critical eye without jumping to conclusions. The British retailer Mark & Spencers has gotten a ton of flack for lingerie advertisements featuring Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. They show her hanging around her boudoir in some cute and comfy undies. It’s important to note that the line is Rosie’s line, which is why she is the one modeling the underwear.
“The Telegraph reports that three digital outdoor advertisements, all promoting Rosie’s own Rosie For Autograph line for Marks & Spencer, were described as “overtly sexual, explicit, degrading to women and reinforced sexual stereotypes of women” in seven complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the U.K.’s advertising watchdog.”
A women’s body or anyone’s body is not inherently sexual unless it is objectified and then sexualized. You can sexualize something by including suggestive overtones, language or gestures. These ads do none of that. They don’t reinforce sexual stereotypes because there is no stereotype being presented. Rosie isn’t interacting with anyone, she’s not even doing anything, the images are almost completely void of action. Sure, if women sitting around on a couch in their underwear is a “sexual stereotype” then sure I guess this is that. Furthermore, the product being sold is lingerie and it’s being modelled by the designer – that makes perfect sense.
There’s a diference between showing a group of firefighters putting out a fire, where the men are in uniform and the women are in “sexy firefighter uniforms” and showing a woman at home in her underwear. The former makes no sense. A tell-tale sign of sexism is that it usually misplaces a woman’s naked body in order to suggest that women, no matter where they are, should be objectified. Another tell-tale sign is if a women’s body is posed in an overtly sexual position or exposed in an image where the men are not.
These ads don’t do any of that. They’re not even sexy ads. These ads would only be sexy if you projected that notion onto them (in which case you can project sexuality on anything). I’ve seen enough episodes of America’s Next Top Model (all of them) to know that when a model is trying to sale something to women she poses in a way that refrains from being sexual, the intention is more to sell the idea that you could look like the model not that you want to sleep with her, which would be the intention in a men’s magazine.
The ASA agreed that this was pretty much fine.
“We also considered that it was acceptable for advertisers of lingerie to show their products modelled in ads, provided they did so responsibly. We also considered that, because the ads were for lingerie, consumers were less likely to regard the partial nudity shown as gratuitous.”
I think this is just a case of the ole slut-shaming, that if a woman reveals any part of her body her intention is to be sexual. The assumption that stripping down to her undies means she is reinforcing a sexual stereotype completely undermines the autonomy of Rosie, who I am sure can decide on her own when she wants to take off or keep on her clothes or when she wants to be sexy. Nudity and sexuality are not the same thing. Third wave feminism means we get to be as revealing or modest as we want to be without the expectation of being judged for it.