Just a Petty Little Thing?

Lauren Haslam debates whether the ASA banning the Pretty Little Thing advert was the right choice

Lauren Haslam
17th February 2020
Image: Instagram @ prettylittlething
On the 5th of February, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK came to the decision to ban a YouTube advert for Pretty Little Thing, an online clothes retailer, deeming it to be “highly sexualised” following a series of complaints from the public claiming it “objectified women”.

This comes after a series of advertisements from other online retailers, such as Boohoo, Missguided, and Nobody’s Child were also prevented from being shown to audiences due to similar complaints. The Pretty Little Thing advertisement shows a series of clips of models posing wearing bright and revealing clothing in a “seductive manner”.

Although it may be apt to suggest the advert sexualises women, we should also ask ourselves what the actual issue is? The women featured in the advert (presumably) fully consented to dress in that manner and have it publicised – the outcry surely ignores these women’s choice to be “objectified”, both for the advert but also in their careers. In addition, we cannot ignore that although the outfits seen in the advert are altogether particularly loud and outrageous, many women do choose to dress in this manner for nights out and events.

Pretty Little Thing claim the advert was not intended to “cause serious offence or be seen as irresponsible”, which I agree was their genuine intention. The advert is unlikely to offend its actual audience – young women. As a young woman myself, I must attest that the advert does in no way offend me, although I do not see it as a “celebration of all shapes and sizes”. It has become too easy in advertising to claim “diversity” when depicting models who differ ever so slightly from the norm – if Pretty Little Thing want to celebrate difference then they need to look further afield.

The company also must be held responsible for their promotion of a certain “Instagram” standard of beauty

The company also must be held responsible for their promotion of a certain “Instagram” standard of beauty, and their role in fast fashion, which harms the women and children who sew their clothes for lower than minimum wage. Instead of criticising the retailer for “over-sexualisation”, if we must reprimand it should be for the ways they actually hurt women.

But why are we so offended by women’s bodies? Looking through the ASA’s website there is no example of an advertisement banned for sexualising men, although we do see this pushed upon us constantly with advertising for men’s underwear such as Calvin Harris’s Emporio Armarni campaign. These adverts are often celebrated and fawned over in the media, published in fashion magazines and pasted onto billboards across the country – with no recorded complaints.

The men in these advertisements show considerably more skin than the women in the “banned” advertisements

The men in these advertisements show considerably more skin than the women in the “banned” advertisements, with some (such as the model for Nobody’s Child) comparatively conservative. It is obvious that women, and brands advertising to women, receive an incredibly different and overwhelmingly more negative response from both the public and ASA.

A key part of modern feminism is choice – by banning the advert we ignore women’s choice. We ignore the choice of the women depicted in the advertisement, the choice of the women shooting the advertisement, the choice of women viewing the advertisement, and even the choice of women buying and wearing the clothes depicted. The ASA must do better.

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