There are a few things we know to be true about fashion ads. They’re usually selling things you can’t afford, the ads often have nothing to do with the clothing, and they rely heavily — nay, entirely! — on sex.
What’s to become, then, of fashion ads in the U.K.? In a recent statement, the country’s Advertising Standards Authority announced that as part of an effort to prevent kids from growing up too fast, it won’t allow overtly sexual ads to be put up within 100 meters of a school. Ridiculously sexual, over-the-top ads that border on porn, they say, won’t be permitted outdoors at all:
The protection of children from inappropriate or harmful material sits at the heart of our work and the Advertising Codes. We are signalling a tightening of our approach in light of new evidence we have received from the public on what is acceptable in terms of sexual imagery on posters, and also in response to a Government commissioned report into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, the Bailey Review.
Of course, “inappropriate” and “acceptable” are about as subjective as adjectives get, so the statement goes on to describe, in some detail and accompanied by images, what will and will not be tolerated:
Although not exhaustive, characteristics that the ASA might consider sexually suggestive or
overtly sexual are:
• Poses suggestive of a sexual position: the parting of the legs, accentuation of the hip
• Amorous or sexually passionate facial expressions
• Exposure of breasts, including partial
• Poses such as hands on the hips, gripping of hair in conjunction with a sexually
suggestive facial expression
• Images of touching oneself in a sexual manner, such as stroking the legs or
holding/gripping the breasts
• Suggestion in facial or bodily expression of an orgasm
• Images of suggestive undressing, such as pulling down a bra strap or knickers
• Ads which draw undue attention to body parts, such as breasts or buttocks, in a
• Ads which show people in poses emulating a sexual position or alluding to sexual
• Overtly sexual lingerie such as stockings, suspenders or paraphernalia such as
whips and chains.
Those kinky Brits! With their whips and chains.
Anyway, it’s amusing to think about the possibility of ASA employees spending all day analyzing the “appropriateness” of some model’s breasts, and then going home and jerking off to the imagery, but that’s neither here nor there.
More to the point is that this decision, while no doubt well-intentioned, is unlikely to accomplish anything. The statement says that when it comes to sexy ads:
…research found that although advertising was not considered to be a prominent influence when considering the issue of ‘sexualisation’ as a whole, participants were more likely than not to think we had been too permissive when judging sexual imagery on posters.
In other words, sexually suggestive advertising doesn’t actually have much effect on kids. What it does do, though, is make parents and neighbors uncomfortable. So instead of looking to research to learn what might really be causing the early sexualization of kids, and what — if anything — could be done to prevent it, the ASA is pandering to the nonsensical hang-ups of adults and then expecting a round of applause.
Now, look — I certainly don’t feel any loyalty to the companies that are producing these ads (except for that this is a fashion site so if they all went under I’d be out of a job). But I’m not crazy about taking action that has been proven to be meaningless in the name of protecting children. It’s a waste of resources, and in this case it perpetuates misinformation about sexuality. Maybe — just going to toss this out there — kids would grow up with a healthier view of sex if their parents talked openly about societal influences and expectations, instead of clutching their pearls and averting their eyes every time a stray breast came into view.