Should ‘irresponsible’ ads be banned outright?

Another day, another highly charged fashion controversy.

Teamed with comfortable casualwear and an extensive archive of controversial adverts, clothing retailer American Apparel knows a thing or two about comfortably creating a stir (pardon the pun).

The US retailer has found itself in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) once again, after running a series of digital ads (of which three out of the 23 have been banned in the UK) featuring semi-naked women. The ASA has ruled that the some of the ad images – which promote tights and a range of coloured T-shirts, and have caused an onslaught of consumer complaints to be directed to the regulatory body – sexualise a model who appeared to be under 16 years old.

Well, it may come as no surprise that the visually outspoken clothing brand continues to brave the wrath of concerned parents and regulatory bodies by providing a constant stream of somewhat suggestive ad imagery. In 2009, an advert featuring a loungewear hoodie by said retailer came under fire after the model appeared to be under 16. She was in fact a 23-year-old, fully consenting adult, but by the grace of the Fine Line Prevention Fraternity in the heavens above, she had a flawless, pre-pubescent face.

Well, isn’t that really the aesthetic that most fashion campaigns go for: young, fresh faces, where it is difficult to tell the age of the subject, (many of whom are often older than they look) but in American Apparel’s case, they aren’t conservatively dressed?

Another point of complaint that landed American Apparel in the ASA’s bad books was the mother of a 12-year-old girl who wanted to look at tights online with her daughter, but found the images featuring models wearing high denier tights, and nothing but those tights “unnecessarily sexual and inappropriate for a website that could be seen by children”.

The fact that this understandably concerned mother believes retail websites such as American Apparel are the only place children have access to images of a provocative nature could well be touching upon her naivety. Gasp-inducing Images from the ‘queen of erotica’, Carine Roitfeld, in her French Vogue heyday are a single click away; Sloggi adverts from the mid-Noughties, featuring four women in nothing but G-strings, all pert derrières on display, were splashed across life-sized billboards in the faces of drivers and commuters, many of whom were probably travelling with children younger than 12.

Tom Ford’s self-photographed ads for his Neroli Portofino collection of perfumes and beauty products, featuring models Max Motta and Mariana Bragga play fighting whilst showering and straddling in the buff, made it into several glossy magazines that were easily available to children, be it from their mother’s magazine collection, in a doctor’s waiting room or on the lowest magazine stand in WHSmith. The undeniably controversial advert was even made the subject of a liquid window display by Selfridges, in the countries busiest High Street, where once again children would’ve looked on in amazement at why on earth a window was spraying water and why two adults weren’t in a shower cubicle instead.

Although American Apparel’s approach to advertising raises a few too many eyebrows, my point is that it isn’t the only organisation in this industry to use visual imagery that gives way to mixed feelings of shock and disgust. The retailer’s website even dedicates a section to advertising, and a regularly updated photo archive features everything from the factory sites to the inside world of American Apparel. I spy a certain element of transparency and, to some degree, a brand’s sheer honesty about itself here.

If the world’s biggest glossy can pledge to stop working with underage models and those suffering from eating disorders, yet still continue to do so in the name of ‘getting that shot’ or ‘for fashion’, then why should American Apparel stop its brutally honest ad campaigns using models who luckily fall on the youthful side, but aren’t underage eating disorder sufferers breaking the law for meagre pay and hours of carrot stick chomping?

Thoughts below, please!

[Image: American Apparel]

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