Can we still use naked female bodies to sell stuff?
That’s the most fundamental truth about marketing. If we’re told that a scent will make us more sexually attractive, we want it. If we think a hot woman will want us more if we buy a flash car, we’ll buy one.
But in an increasingly PC world, how legitimate is it to use our sexual desires or insecurities to sell us stuff?
The #MeToo campaign has sparked a kind of sexual revolution in which society has finally started to speak openly about and understand the reality of sexually inappropriate behaviour – both current and historical. We’re now more woke than ever about our rights and expectations.
If we want women to stop being constantly objectified, the storytellers have to change the narrative. We’ve got to get gratuitous rape scenes off our stages, violence against women off our screens and negative, genderised images off our magazine pages.
In that vein, it seems reasonable to require brands to stop using naked and female bodies in vulnerable positions to sell their products.
D&G’s been called out in the past for depicting scenes of sexual assault in their campaigns and there have been calls for labels like Gucci to stop showing images of female corpses.
But what about female designers using naked female bodies to sell womenswear?
Australian shoe designer Johanna Preston recently came under fire for using near-naked women to model her new collection of ‘Born Free’ shoes and boots.
After posting sneak-peaks of her brand’s upcoming spring-like collection, Johanna and her husband got called out for ‘ridiculous sexualisation’, with people questioning why the models needed to be nude to sell shoes.
‘Can we expect similar ads for men’s footwear with headless men missing their clothing also or is it just sexual exploitation of women that sells shoes?’ wrote one.
Another said that there was no need to use nudes to sell women shoes and that an indie designer should know better.
And presumably, a female one at that.
Johanna, understandably, was pretty put out by the furore – particularly given the subject and inspiration of the collection.
‘Have we come to a place now where the female body is completely taboo?’ she asked.
The female body is amazing; in its nude form it’s particularly beautiful, sensual, powerful. It’s capable of so many things – childbirth, expansion, speed. It’s incredibly sad to think of it being off-limits due to hyperawareness of the issues.
It’s been the subject of art since the dawn of time and while the male gaze has been undeniably problematic, there is a discernable difference in the way the female form is handled by male and female artists. Mary Cassatt, for example, is renowned for the sensitive and intimate way in which she portrayed other women – quite in contrast to her male contemporaries like Degas whose works were, at best, voyeuristic.
Looking at fashion marketing today, there’s a similar gender-play going on.
Male photographers, designers and creative directors have been guilty of creating images of women as weak, submissive clothes horses – very much occupying a voyeuristic space like male artists have done for centuries.
Just look at the number of dudes in the fashion industry who have been called out for sexual impropriety – are there any fashion photographers left who haven’t been accused of harassment? Mario Testino has been accused of behaving inappropriately towards male models and former assistants; Terry Richardson’s had a slew of sexual misconduct claims filed against him dating back over a decade; Bruce Weber has been suspended from working with Conde Nast following allegations of sexual exploitation.
When it comes to the future of fashion, it has to involve smashing that negative gaze. We have to call time on women being subjected to both workplace harassment and being portrayed in a manner which reeks of disrespect (the two are undoubtedly interlinked).
But that shouldn’t mean that female designers and creatives find themselves unable to depict the female body – which they share – as they wish.
Surely a blanket ban on showing the female body in its most sensual form is over-zealous? When it incites no violence, shows no vulnerability, asks no lude favours, why are we so offended?
We’ve got to be careful that, in a bid to be as liberal as possible, we don’t inadvertently become bigoted.
Women have a right to talk and show off their bodies as they wish – without any recrimination from any quarter. As women, we’re not free to lambast other women for enjoying their bodies. If it were a man telling us to cover up, we wouldn’t stand for it. When we think of women in Middle Eastern countries being forced to cover their bodies, many bleeding heart liberals in the West ring their hands at the perceived unfairness of the situation – without considering that perhaps many of these women want and like to dress modestly. I’m sure that the models used in the Preston Zly shoot probably enjoyed their shoot in all its nude glory.
Women – models or otherwise – have agency over their bodies. We don’t need to be told to cover up for the good of feminism – how is that any better than being told to dress to avoid being sexually harassed?
Call me backwards but aren’t we all just becoming slightly over-sensitive and overly prudish?
It might seem highly hypocritical but the reality is that fashion marketing – for now at least – is gendered and it’s the people who occupy those specific spaces who have more of a right to determine how they use their bodies to sell their products.
The naked female body shouldn’t be off-limits…at least, not for female creatives.