Why is it okay to put 16-year-olds in lingerie ads?

This is Gisele Bundchen at age 16 in a Macy’s catalogue:


(Via Buzzfeed)

This makes me extremely uncomfortable. I think it’s a pretty twisted world we live in when a fashion director dresses a teenager up in fishnets and a velvet bra to try to convince other women (presumably Macy’s catalogue-receiving women in their 30s and 40s) to buy this underwear.

Selling clothes is always an exercise in aspiration. Wear this and your thighs might look slimmer! Wear this and hunky men will drape themselves all over you. Wear this and you’ll want¬†to go to the gym!¬†Wear this and other women will admire your style! Whatever you want to happen will happen if you only for the love of God buy these clothes!

What’s so bizarre about using underage models is that the aspiration you create in the minds of your consumer is impossible to fulfill. 30-year-olds will never look 16 again. Instead of building a vision about looking and being your “best self” (what brands like Dove do with campaigns like Real Beauty, manipulative in its own way), this ad creates impossible dreams. And what strange dreams to have!

See? Ann Taylor uses extremely attractive but age-appropriate models

See? Ann Taylor uses extremely attractive but age-appropriate models

You would never use a 16-year-old to sell a power suit, right? Because women who want to look powerful don’t want to look juvenile. They want to look attractive, and sleek, and put-together, but nobody aims for “junior prom” when they want to rock an interview.

But when you’re trying to look sexy (as anyone who is purchasing fishnets and velvet pushup bras likely is), looking youthful is part of the aspiration. We’ve conflated “adolescent” with “sexy” for so long that it seems natural for a teenager to model underwear the way it would never seem natural to put her in a skirt suit. That’s kind of scary, and we’re still doing it.

I feel like every party here is wronged in some way, the 16-year-old model who’s been tarted up, the rest of 16-year-olds who don’t look like this model and are intimidated, the 39-year-olds flipping through this catalogue and wondering why a girl their daughter’s age is being used to sell them underwear, any men who might catch a glimpse and lust after her, however briefly, not knowing she’s not even legal, teenaged boys who end up with bizarre expectations of what women wear under their clothes (hint, it’s usually not this).

Who wins? Macy’s, probably, if this ad sold a lot of tights. Sigh. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.

Related Post: But how old is she really?

Related Post: Bras for 9-year-olds


Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Gender, Sex

13 responses to “Why is it okay to put 16-year-olds in lingerie ads?

  1. *Probably* you’ve seen this, but in the off-chance that it’s somehow been missed by you: http://vimeo.com/50932334, it’s a must see. Jean Killbourne has been laboring on this issue for 40 years and she lays it all out so clearly and concisely that it feels like a smack in the face. Ugh…

    • PS — It only works *because* they do it. I actually think this is related to your last post on Lena Dunham’s body… Consider diet coke dressed up in black packaging for men — WTF?! They’re selling more than products.

  2. freepussyriot

    Sexualising girls. All wrong. Has this type of imagery contributed to rape culture… that it’s ok for boys and men to accept teenagers as the sexualised normal. This is where the line blurs for me. By all means, have lingerie for teenagers and use teenage models to advertise them. Don’t use teenagers to sell lingerie to women in a completely different demographic and age bracket. It’s lazy and demeaning advertising. A Campaign that would have been given the go ahead from mostly male creative directors from an ad agency purely set with client sales targets in mind. Had it been Kate Moss today, say, similar body type… although Moss is still unrealistic to most women and their body shapes, I would have accepted the imagery, she caters to a specific target of thin women. While we should encourage and empower girls at 16 to have sex if they want to and be in control and the ability to say no to any creeps at whatever age, intelligent advertisers should adjust their rape cultured thinking to benefit all. Perverted at best.

  3. freepussyriot

    Reblogged this on Sarah Walsh and commented:
    Rape cultured ads… using teenagers to sell lingerie is lazy and demeaning. Perverted at best.

  4. Where are the parents of this 16 year old? Oh right, counting the money she is making.

  5. I was about to write how marketing isn’t a moral profession, but then I found this code of advertising ethics on the internet: http://www.aaf.org/images/public/aaf_content/images/ad%20ethics/IAE_Principles_Practices.pdf

    The code doesn’t say anything about using beauty/sex/youth to sell product.

  6. This clip here from the UK satirical quiz show, ‘Have I Got News for You’ touches on this issue – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIx_b41wzbs

    It’s from 4:25 – 5:35, and shows the eagerness of the media to oversexualise young females.

    Also, I notice how these types of vile adverts are aimed at a very narrow sphere of women. But I’m glad you’re calling this out this type of thing. It’s a blight on the world we live in.

    P.S. For those watching the clip, to avoid any confusion, the age of consent in the UK is 16.

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