This morning, I heard a Radio discussion about a four foot image on the wall of the café in John Lewis which advertised their bra fitting service. A customer having a coffee said was offended by the image of a woman in bra and knickers; it wasn’t the attire that offended but the provocative, obviously sexual nature of the advertisement-the woman is slim (obviously) and has her head thrown back, mouth parted, eyes slightly hooded. It is obviously designed to be provocative. John Lewis defended the image, their only concession to the complaining being that the advertisement may have been in an inappropriate place (the café) They highlighted the fact that they sell bras for all sizes and for all occasions-from bras in which a woman could run a marathon to the sexy ‘bedroom’ lingerie. It is not surprising to anyone though that John Lewis decides to advertise the sexy bras on a slim woman rather than the sports bra on a size 14 marathon runner.
But this is the supposed power aspirational advertising. If a man buys this lingerie for his wife he believes she will somehow be transformed in to this sex goddess, women buying for themselves are presumably meant to think the same.The markets want us to buy into a fantasy they want us to believe we can acquire this idyllic lifestyle if we part with our hard-earned cash to buy their products. This fantasy world though is nearly always about sex and most of the time uses erotic imagery of women. Many have no objection to this-“Sex Sells” is the usual response from the sellers.But does it? I think we have become so accustomed to seeing women in provocative poses that we barely notice them any more-the John Lewis café advertisement only attracted one complaint.Sex has been used in advertising in this way since time immemorial, from hair dye, to soap to jeans. Calvin Klein’s first controversial jeans advertisement showed a 15-year-old Brooke Shields, in Calvin Klein jeans, saying, “Want to know what gets between me and my Calvin’s? Nothing.”
My personal gripe with the images of innuendo is the fact that it is always women who are being objectified as sex objects. If it was simply the case that that sex sold, we’d see both men and women equally sexually objectified. Instead, we see, primarily, women sold to heterosexual men.Women are being used as sex objects to sell stuff.Even in women’s magazines these images are present, mainly because the editors believe that their readers do not want to see “real-life” models or the way that beauty products and clothes look on “real women;” that they buy the magazines in the first place because they prefer the aspirational fantasies, and secondly because they continually hope that by following the advice or buying the products, they will achieve the ever-changing looks that the magazine promotes via the models and photographic/technological wizardry. Advertising therefore is legalised lying. It could be argued are not exclusively selling male desire- they are selling simply desire. But I think that the gender inequality is ever present. Mark Twain knew this when he said, “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”