May 3rd, 2017, 09:53 AM

The 'Porno Chic' Generation

By Sara Hafi
Image Credit: VSPRESS/SIPA
YSL’s Shocking Ad Campaign.

Can adverts still shock? Is the objectification of the female body still filling our social media feeds and billboards? Sadly, as the recent Yves Saint Laurent advert campaign illustrates, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding ‘yes.’

Last month, on March 4th, the famous French fashion house “Yves Saint Laurent” released its new campaign. With ironic timing, the ads that enraged and shocked Parisians appeared just before International Women's Day. The campaign was seen to promote 'Porno Chic.' One of the ads shows an anorexic model opening her legs for the camera. The other ad shows the model leaning on a stool in a suggestive position.

The banalization of the objectification of women in modern media is obviously still a cause for concern in  2017. The idea that a woman’s worth is measured by her appearance and sexual appeal is recurrent. As these adverts go to show, a woman’s value, at least through her media representation, is too often reduced to her sexuality and the sexualized portrayal of women too often depicts them as  submissive and weak.

PUBLIC OUTRAGE

The ARPP (Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité or France’s Advertising Standards Authority) received more than 200 complaints after the Saint Laurent ads went up across Paris. The goal of this organization is to preserve high standards in terms of legal, honest, and truthful advertising. Its main mission is to maintain the balance between creativity and freedom of expression but also the responsibility and respect due to consumers.

Many people raised their voices on Twitter, to show their indignation with the hashtag #YSLRetireTaPubDegrandante (which translates to YSL, Remove Your Degrading Ad).

Parce que @YSL a choisi de fêter les femmes de la manière la plus dégradante #8mars #YSLRetireTaPubDegradante

Anne Tachene - 4 Mar 2017

(YSL chose to celebrate women in the most degrading way, March 8th is International Women's Day.)

On March 6th, the ARPP decided to ask YSL to stop the campaign immediately.

Image Credit: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP

A MORAL TRIUMPH?

It looked as though society’s concern for fair gender representation had triumphed over bad taste. After all, advertisements do not only sell products. They sell values, they show us what it is considered attractive in any given society. Advertisements tell us who we are and, especially, who we might want to become. Many consumers deny the impact of advertising. But think about it:  we are exposed to between 500 and 2000 advertising messages on a daily basis. Why would companies invest this much time and money in something that had no affect?

The amount of press garnered by the YSL ad campaign may only have gone to prove that old adage: any publicity is good publicity. The campaign used extremely controversial images. Traditionally, this famous luxury brand does not show empowering images of women. Some may argue that these images capture the reality of what it is like to be a woman. Sexual objectification of women in the media seems to be exacerbated in our times of social media. We live in a predominantly visual era. Social media has become a toxic mirror. Visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat deliver the tools that allow people to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others. However, Parisians did not see the subliminal message in these YSL ads. If they were shocking, that was certainly what they set out to do.

This is not the first time the fashion industry has been seen to glamorize violence and sexual submission. Before we jump to the conclusion that advertising simply mirrors society, we should also consider that advertising deforms and simplifies society. A single media text has multiple meanings. Advertisements play with stereotypes, ambiguity and use socio-cultural themes to appeal to people. Sex is one of our favourite subjects and so, of course, we use it as a means to sell products. It certainly appears to be one of the most efficient ways to attract public attention. Everywhere, women are represented as objects of desire. This desire is transferred to the object associated with the woman. The female body is used as bait. So YSL did not lose out with their campaign: its main purpose was to provoke and grab people’s attention. In that, they were most certainly successful.

Image Credit: SISLEY

Today, showing a naked woman alone does not, it seems, have sufficient shock value. Advertisers have further pushed back the frontiers of good taste with the simulation of sex and gang rape. 

Image Credit: Dolce & Gabbana

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

We should care because sexual stereotypes are socially conditioning: they show us how to behave, they tell us what self-image we should project. The fashion industry shows in its adverts an ideal of female beauty. But whose ideal is this? We are given images of unachievable perfection. In our culture, the pressure to meet false ideals has almost become a second nature for women.

While there has been much discussion about the use of the female body in advertising, we need to remember that an advert's capacity to shock depends on its cultural context. Age, sex, race and gender are all factors that influence the impact that advertising has upon us. Even when a company is using certain imagery to create brand awareness, those images reveal a lot about our view of gender roles in any given society. Advertising influences our perception of sexuality and gender relations. It teaches us indirectly what it is to be a man, what it is to be a woman, what it means to be masculine, what it means to be feminine and how to be sexually attractive. 

Beyond the commercial message, advertising also conveys an ideological message. It imposes its worldview and its definition of social relationships and individuality. Put in a culturally comparative context, we can see how the ideal of beauty is constructed; different countries do not share the same ideals. Indeed, they may have an idea of beauty extremely different to ours.

“Conventional beauty is her only attribute. She has no lines or wrinkles (...), no scars or blemishes--indeed, she has no pores. She is thin, generally tall and long-legged, and, above all, she is young. All "beautiful" women in advertisements (including minority women), regardless of product or audience, conform to this norm. Women are constantly exhorted to emulate this ideal, to feel ashamed and guilty if they fail, and to feel that their desirability and lovability are contingent upon physical perfection.” (Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly)

We live in a hypersexualized society where we are constantly confronted with representations of the body. These bodies are idealized and rarely conform to reality. Thus, when a big brand shows a semi-naked woman, we take it for granted. But when a photo published on social networks reveals an 'imperfect' body, it is immediately criticized. Both men and women suffer from from the dictates of physical perfection.

Image Credit: DESIGNTAXI

The YSL campaign was yet another wake-up call. We need to pay attention to the images with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. Instead of following the dictates of media and society, we should try to be conscious of our uniqueness and seek inspiration from each other. Your body belongs to you. Do not hurt your body for others.