The aspiration to look young and sexy is not a new phenomenon. Neither is the habit of fashion brands to reflect or play on this desire by using young models in their ads. It is not unusual for ad creators to airbrush wrinkles, cellulite, blemishes and other ‘imperfections’ off models in order to make them look like a picture of youthful perfection.
More than anyone, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) - the UK watchdog that spends its time scouring ads and considering complaints from the public - should be used to this omnipresence of youthfulness and the underrepresentation of over-25s in the fashion industry. Yet now it has banned an ad by the clothing firm American Apparel because the featured, 23-year-old, model looks too young.
American Apparel is that worthy fashion brand that can be held responsible for the unfortunate return of Eighties-style leg warmers and body suits in blinding colours. It prides itself on being ‘anti-sweat shop’; its products are designed, manufactured and marketed from downtown Los Angeles, California (1). American Apparel has also boasted about using ‘real people’ in its ads and not Photoshopping their images. The models do their own hair and makeup and are often employees or friends of employees, which suggests that American Apparel staff and their mates are a pretty photogenic bunch (2).
A recent magazine ad for American Apparel’s Flex Fleece hooded top featured a series of six images of a young blonde-haired girl wearing minimal make-up and dressed in tight shorts and a black version of the fleece hoodie. In the sixth image, the model’s nipple was partially exposed. The ad campaign appeared in Vice magazine, which is aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds and is distributed for free in British bars, nightclubs and clothes shops. Now, the ASA has banned the ad, ruling that it ‘could be seen to sexualise a model who appeared to be a child’ and that it could potentially cause serious offence (3).
The ASA decided that ‘the photographs suggested that [the model] was stripping off for an amateur-style photo shoot’. According to American Apparel, the ad depicted a girl in a relaxed home environment and it conveyed how the hoodie is so soft it can be worn directly against the skin. The six different images also showed, said American Apparel, how the item can be used to create different looks. Presumably, the shot of the pouting blonde wearing glasses and flashing a nude thigh suggests how prospective buyers of the Flex Fleece hoodie can achieve the bookish sex-bomb look (4).