By Roxanna Wright

From a young age, we are taught the progression of female equality, from the Suffragettes to Fourth Wave Feminism. While some would argue that we have largely achieved equality, it remains clear huge problems remain. To what extent are women treated equally, and with respect, today?

Pretty Little Thing, a major online retailer for young women in the UK, released an advertisement for their new clothing range, however it was shortly banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after its initial release on 29 October 2019, for being ‘overly sexualised’. The clothes advertised seemed to have a theme of ‘as minimal coverage as possible’ through the outfits of bras, shorts, see-through tops and underwear. Shots of the model with her legs open and holding neon bars were repeated throughout. This sexualised representation of women in the advert demonstrates a age-old stereotype that women are sexual objects, suggesting we never lost these archaic ideologies.

However, when I first watched this advert, I wasn’t immediately offended by the portrayal of my gender. I didn’t instantly feel disgusted that women are represented in this extremely sexualised manner. I wasn’t even surprised by the lack of material on the models, even though it was shown in the build up to winter.

This is the real issue Pretty Little Thing’s advert uncovers. It shows how oblivious and ignorant audiences have been towards objectification of women in the present. The UK curriculum avoids current problems with sexism. Instead, schools focus on the hardship women endured in the past, to create the impression that women today have achieved equality and are respected.Girls have been programmed throughout their life to believe viewpoints of women have drastically improved as they are no longer stuck in the 1950’s ideal of being the perfect housewife, and more women are in science and Parliament than ever before. Yet, it shouldn’t distract us from the harsh reality that women are still objectified today.

Instead, girls look upon these models, and their outfits, in awe. A crippling feeling of desire washes over thousands of female viewers, wishing to look like these airbrushed, photo-shopped models, who have often undergone cosmetic surgery, and with high-quality makeup so expensive that the cost of it would probably cover my accommodation. And while I have the knowledge that these images aren’t a reflection of reality, the feeling of insecurity was still present after I watched this advertisement. Girls as young as thirteen, who are uneducated in the production of advertisement and modelling photos, are having these images of objectified women shoved into their faces before they know any better, causing the insecurities to start at a young age.

The male gaze is absorbed throughout the entire advertisement. It is interesting how Pretty Little Thing used this in their advertisement, considering their exclusively female target audience.

Does the feeling of being objectified persuade women to buy clothes? Is it because we know our value is often held in relation to how we look to men? It is fascinating to see that Pretty Little Thing believe representing women as pieces of meat is a better advertising style instead of promoting women in a less sexualised way.

Pretty Little Thing defended their advertisement by stating that it “celebrates all women” and promotes body diversity, however, there was only one model used in the entire advert. This makes it very difficult to side with Pretty Little Thing as one woman cannot really celebrate “all women”.

On top of that, Pretty Little Thing defended their advert by saying it was to “promote a positive and healthy body image that was inclusive and empowered women”. This is also challenging to see as empowering, as the healthy body image they believe they are promoting is a size 6/8 woman, whereas the average size woman in the UK is currently a size 16. The body that they are promoting is one which requires a meticulous diet, a vigorous work out routine, and a naturally fast metabolism. And the world wonders why millions of girls endure extreme diets, undergo plastic surgery and face insecurities.

“Female empowerment” is just a disguise for women’s bodies to be objectified in the media.We probably all come across images of women sexualised and objectified on a daily basis, except we don’t even notice anymore. Seeing a woman half naked on Instagram or on a front page of a newspaper is no more shocking than seeing Donald Trump’s name in the top headlines. It is highly unlikely for this historical convention to end, but maybe this is a start.

Image credit: Pretty Little Thing

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