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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Chelsea Mtada

Hypocrisy! ASA's Ban on FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein Ad Sparks Outrage Over Double Standards.

Updated: Jan 16

Credit: Calvin Klein, 2024

FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein Ad Gets the Axe While Jeremy Allen White's Steamy Display Gets a Thumbs-Up.

In the ever-evolving landscape of advertising, the recent ban on FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein ad by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ignited a fierce debate on the fine line between artistic expression and perceived objectification. The controversy surrounding this decision underscores a troubling double standard that continues to persist in the industry.

The stark contrast between FKA Twigs' banned ad and Jeremy Allen White's unbridled display of sensuality raises eyebrows. While Twigs' portrayal is celebrated for its athleticism and artistry by fans, the ASA deems it "irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence" for presenting her as a "stereotypical sexual object." On the other hand, White's overtly seductive images, that sparked a "shareable feast" across social and media outlets, escapes the scrutiny that Twigs faces.

The ASA's decision reflects a failure to comprehend the power of context and consent in visual storytelling. Twigs' ad challenges societal norms of the male gaze, emphasising empowerment and inspiration. However, the ASA's myopic interpretation fails to recognise the nuanced expression of sexuality and empowerment, perpetuating a toxic foundation that contributes to the lack of women's autonomy in media.

Credit: Calvin Klein, 2024

Twigs addressed the ASA's decision on her Instagram, writing, “I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labelled me. I see a beautiful strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine. In light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here. So to be clear, I am proud of my physicality and hold the art I create with my vessel to the standards of women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones who broke down barriers of what it looks like to be empowered and harness a unique embodied sensuality.”

“The FKA twigs ban is only the tip of the iceberg.” - Charlotte Hyde, Chief Marketing Officer of Ohne

Charlotte Hyde, Chief Marketing Officer of feminine care company Ohne, boldly exposed the pervasive double standards in advertising beyond the ASA's jurisdiction. On her Linkedin post, she pointed to the struggles faced by brands promoting feminine care products, stating, “There are definite double standards in advertising when it comes to the ‘sexualisation of bodies’ but it goes much deeper than ASA. At ohne, a period care startup, our Instagram would be restricted/shadow banned every month for showing people wearing our period pants." Hyde sheds light on the real-life consequences, highlighting the impact on small brands striving to embody their values in the face of restrictive policies.

Hyde’s fears are proven further with ASA’s recent ban of a poster by Girl vs Cancer for using an "offensive" sexual swear word alongside sexual imagery displayed in an un-targeted medium easily viewable by children. Created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty for the inclusive, community-led charity, the poster was part of a broader campaign addressing sex, pleasure, and intimacy for people living with or beyond cancer.

Credit: BBH / GirlvsCancer

The poster execution featured a nude close-up of women who have experienced cancer, accompanied by the line: “Cancer won’t be the last thing that fcks me.” The ASA, in its ban era, argued that the use of the word "fck" alongside the imagery would likely be interpreted as depicting sexual behaviour, deeming it inappropriate for display in an un-targeted medium where children could see it.

In Girl vs Cancer's defence, the charity contended that the poster represented the real-life experience of women and the emotions they had faced. Despite understanding that it might make people uncomfortable, the charity believed the ad would not likely cause serious or widespread offence. It argued that the language and image were relevant to the lived experiences and issues faced by many women with cancer and were not used gratuitously.

While the ASA accepted Girl vs Cancer's argument about the careful choice of imagery and language, it concluded that the use of the word "f*ck" was likely to offend and should not be alluded to in advertising. The ban on this campaign, coupled with the recent ban on FKA Twigs' ad, underscores a concerning trend in the ASA's decision-making process.

These instances raise critical questions about the ASA's ability to understand and appreciate the nuanced representation of sexuality in advertising. The agency's propensity to censor campaigns that represent sexual empowerment reflects a rigid and outdated approach that fails to consider the power of context, consent, and the diverse perspectives that should be celebrated in modern visual storytelling.

Credit: Calvin Klein, 2024

The ban raises questions about the selective empowerment and control of sexual expression, seemingly only reserved for caucasian straight men. Why does ASA allow a more sexualised nature in Jeremy Allen White's case while censoring FKA Twigs? The inherent bias in the decision-making process reveals a deeper issue in how society views and regulates the portrayal of women's bodies, especially those of colour.

Because at the end of the day, if this was really about safe-guarding the body positivity movement or protecting the children then we wouldn’t have Jeremy Allen White’s D*ck swinging on billboards all over the city.

The expression of sexuality is not exclusive to white straight men. In a world where sexual identities are more diverse than ever, there must be space for women, queer individuals, and people who are underrepresented in the landscape of desirability.

Policing women's bodies has real-life consequences. This heavy-handed approach perpetuates harmful stereotypes and inhibits the creative expression of women in the industry. The repercussions extend beyond artistic interpretation; they infiltrate the everyday experiences of brands advocating for body positivity and empowerment.

A Direct Message to the ASA:

Embrace Diversity: The ASA must recognise the diverse expressions of sexuality, is not just a call for representation; it's a demand for acknowledging the inherent humanity and dignity of every individual. Failure to do so perpetuates exclusionary norms that stifle creativity and reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Context Matters: Consider the real-life impact of decisions on small brands like Ohne. The ASA must understand that context and intent are paramount, and a failure to grasp this contributes to the suppression of authentic storytelling.

Consent and Empowerment: Acknowledge the importance of consent and empowerment in visual storytelling. Censoring FKA Twigs' ad undermines the agency of women, hindering progress towards a culture of equal agency and autonomy.

Challenge Double Standards: The ASA's decision reveals glaring double standards in how different genders and ethnicities are treated in advertising. This bias perpetuates systemic inequalities and hampers the industry's evolution towards inclusivity.

As the advertising landscape continues to evolve, decisions like the one regarding FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein ad underscore the need for a more nuanced and inclusive approach to storytelling. The power dynamics embedded in objectification must be dismantled, and decision-makers should strive for a more equitable and empowering representation of all bodies. The ASA's role in this transformation is pivotal, and their decisions should reflect a commitment to progress rather than perpetuating regressive norms.

Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, wellness and culture ? Do you belong to a marginalised community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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