Tag Archives: sex sells

When men look at women, it’s sleaze. When women look at men, it’s just plain good fun. An American Apparel case study in hypocrisy.

23 Jun

Booty Alert: some images may be NSFW


Late post today, but I was hosting a luncheon for the parents of a good friend, who are visiting from out of town. Lobster bisque and homemade bread. I cheated and bought the butter. I’m so lazy!




After a very lovely lunch and visit, I popped open my Buzzfeed app and one of the lead feeds was “The Five Sleaziest American Apparel Panty Ads Of All Time (NSFW)”.




American Apparel comes under regular fire for its apparently “sexist” advertising, and in keeping with our theme of lusting after human bodies, I thought today we would explore a little slice of objectification hypocrisy.






Let’s start with the PantyTime ads.




panty 2


What, exactly, are the objections to these ads? Are they tasteful? Well, I guess that depends upon your taste, but you have to be some kind of killjoy to not enjoy campfire tent sex. A dancing fire, endless stars above you, the smell of pine trees, a brook babbling nearby. I’d say the hiking lady looks to be in for an evening of some melted marshmallow fun!




Aside: Don’t try that. Melted marshmallows are total hell to get off. They taste sweet and they’re warm and gooey and they’re fun to eat off a willing body but they stick like some sort of glue NASA uses to repair the space station. Trust me on that one.


Let’s take a look at what the Swedish Lady Mafia thinks about American Apparel. In an act of epic bravery and rebellion, the Mafia had a male model mimic the pose of a female model advertising a shirt? Maybe the product is the shirt? It must be.




It’s a stark way of showing how men on the website are predominantly shown fully clothed and standing in modest poses, while women are often shown in various states of undress and striking sexually suggestive poses.




You know, I agree. The lady on the counter is sexy. The guy on the counter looks foolish, but all that demonstrates is that we have very different ideas about how male and female sexuality are played out. We want different things from men than we do from women.


Let’s take a look at this assertion: men on the website are predominantly shown fully clothed.


Oh, really?


man 2


man 3


man 5


man 4


That’s taken off their home screen! Who knows what loveliness lurks deeper into the site?




Calvin Klein featured an epically objectifying advertisement this past Superbowl, and while a few commenters called it out for sexism on Twitter, most of them gave a huge whooping cheer! Here is Jezebel celebrating an ad that has little to do with the product and everything to do with lusting after a body.




Why is this ad okay?


Oh, that’s because it’s a MALE body being objectified.



Let’s talk about the rationale behind hating the American Apparel ads in particular. The central issue, the key point of contention is WHO OWNS THE GAZE. Who is looking? What thoughts do the images invite? With whom does the viewer identify?


I’ve discussed before a film theorist named Laura Mulvey who wrote a paper about representation in which she claims that men own the gaze on film. Men look, women are looked at: ergo, men objectify women.


And obviously, that’s very, very, very bad.




Let’s start with the male gaze (and I’ll assume everyone is heterosexual in this discussion). When a man looks at an image like this:




He is supposed to experience a strong reaction of desire. The ad is designed to illicit very explicit images in men’s minds. The bubble draws attention to her mouth. What would you like to replace the bubblegum with? The stockings frame her barely covered ass. Would you like to uncover it? Those are no fragile nylon stockings, either. They look pretty robust. Rough and tumble. Her hair is already tousled and messy. Can you imagine making it even more dishevelled? And then what? And then what…..


The ad wants men to visualize strongly sexual imagery. You want to fuck her. For male viewers, American Apparel is attempting to create an association in their mind whereby American Apparel = sexy, hot, powerful, desirable, dominant. The company is hoping that the next time a man who has seen the ad walks by a store window, he might just recall those feelings and pop in and pick up a blue shirt.


That’s how advertising works. Create an association, then transfer it onto a product, which you will then purchase BECAUSE of that association. Seems to be working, too. American Apparel is back to profitability.




I looked for some men objecting to American Apparel’s blatant attempt to appeal to a very animal sort of sexuality, but I couldn’t find one. Seems like most men are perfectly comfortable managing their desires and emotions. Go Daddy has some of the raciest TV spots out there, and gets called out as sexist routinely, but…


When GoDaddy aired its first Super Bowl spot in 2005, it was a $100 million company few people knew with a 16% market share. Fast-forward to 2012, and GoDaddy is a $1.1 billion company with a 52% market share.




Sex sells. To men and women both.


Now let’s talk about the female gaze. As a woman looking at the bubble image, you are supposed to imagine being that woman. You are supposed to understand that she evokes a powerful response in men. Men want her. They desire her. She has power over them, and that power has the potential to lead to lots of benefits. You are supposed to want that power for yourself, and when you slip on your own pair of knit stockings and barely there panties, you will feel it. Buy our products so you, too, can control a man’s gaze and make him want you.




Oh dear. Well, now we have a problem. Nearly 40% of women in American Apparel’s target market (18 -35) are overweight.




How are those chubby ladies going to look in stockings and panties?




Tsk, tsk. Not so hot. And that makes women feel a sense of loathing. Confronting a body that men want and desire and long for makes women who fall well short of that ideal sad and depressed and unhappy.


One response has been to feature more fat bodies in advertising, like the Dove Beauty Campaign tries to do. But it doesn’t work. Women still dislike their fat bodies.






We live in a culture saturated with the idea that problems belong to someone else. Whatever the issue, the solution is for someone else to deal with it. And if it is someone else’s responsibility to solve the problems, it’s probably someone’s fault the problem exists in the first place.


Here are the reasons commonly given for obesity:


Toxic environment


Food deserts


Contaminated food supply

Big Government and Big Business Conspiracy

High fructose corn syrup


Fast food




Here are the real reasons for obesity


You eat too much

You don’t move your body enough


The first list are all problems for someone else to solve. The real list has one solution: YOU.


When women are confronted with images of other women who clearly put some effort into what they eat and how much they exercise, it triggers anger and anxiety and a search for someone to blame. If women don’t live up to the images in the media, well then, we have to change the media. And if men continue to desire those fit bodies, then we have to change men, too.




size 22


It’s all about making other people change rather than accepting responsibility for yourself and deciding that it’s your body and your choice and you CAN choose not to be fat.




Here’s how we know that the feminist response to women being objectified and thereby dehumanized in advertising is a straw man argument: the same standards do not apply to men. If objectification is bad and wrong and morally reprehensible, and causes us to view the objectified as less than human, then it’s bad when women do it to men, too, right?


Er, nope.




Let’s go back to the gaze. When men look at this ad, they are supposed to want to be that guy. Buy HOM briefs, and you can be sexy like him! Or just get as close as you can. There is little teeth-gnashing and sobbing in the media from men who are confronted with these unbelievably fit, gorgeous men. Few cries of “sexism”. If anything, guys look at these images and decide to hit the gym.




In the same way that American Apparel ads are designed to trigger explicit sexual imagery in men, ads like HOM are designed to trigger explicit sexual images in women. Here is man, displayed for us, in total masculine magnificence.


What would you like to do to him? Are you on top? He’s already leaning back. Seems like a good choice. His socks and underwear frame those beautiful thighs. Wouldn’t they look good underneath you? The tattooed bicep. He seems a little dangerous. This could get rough…..


Oh my.




This ad appeared in Elle magazine!


Here he is again.




Women are invited to turn their gaze on a beautiful man and let their imaginations run free. And that’s okay. It’s totally okay. It’s more than okay. It’s pretty damn spectacular. Jezebel runs a regular feature called Thighlights, in which women openly slobber over a specific male body part.


Mark William Calaway, Phillip Jack Brooks


thighs 2


thigh 3




Jesus. Look at the package on the guy in red.




Oops. I mean, he seems like a really nice person.


Pretty long-winded today, but my point is this: the argument or critique of women in advertising and the objectification of women’s bodies isn’t a debate about women’s self-esteem at all.




It’s a debate about power. The power to look. The power to want. The power to desire. The power to evoke.


And women want that power for themselves, and only themselves.


Kate Upton makes (fat) women feel bad.




Half naked men make (most) women feel good.






Anything that causes ladies to feel bad is wrong by definition. And the thing that makes ladies feel bad is the power of the male gaze. It assesses them, evaluates them and very often, rejects them. That power must be demonized, derided, dismissed as evidence for men being shallow, stupid superficial brutes who see women purely in sexual terms.




If feminists really cared about the relationship between objectification and dehumanization ( a dicey theory at best), they would care about ALL instances of objectification. They would care about EVERY body that is reduced to sexual utility.


But they don’t. In fact, they delight in watching men having to objectify themselves.



Ford’s entire roster of male models take off their shirts and dance for the cameras to the all-too-fitting song “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” You’re welcome.




Feminists only care about one type of body being objectified: slender women.


Those are the bodies that have power, especially over men. Those bodies are testaments to the true power women can wield in the world: they signal reproductive fitness.





Genetically outstanding babies


babies in a row


All the things feminism tries to teach women are NOT important. The continuing appeal of advertising featuring sexually provocative women AND men tells the real story: it matters. Sexuality is one of the key things that define us as humans. And it will always matter.


When sexuality is turned into a power struggle that argues over the ownership of the gaze, the potential for mutually satisfying partnerships between men and women is all but destroyed. Men are made to feel guilty and ashamed. Their preferences are “sleaze”. And women learn that male sexuality is theirs to control and define. Male bodies are objects to satisfy their desires.




Imagine a group of men with a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the lunch room at work, openly admiring the angels. Get ready for a meeting with HR, dudes. Sensitivity training is in your future. Now imagine a group of women swooning over David Beckham in Elle. HR is probably sitting there drooling along with all the other ladies.


Now imagine any one of those men dating any one of those women.


A culture in which male desire is disgusting and sleazy and women’s desire is empowering and objectifying is a culture in which sexual ecstasy is pretty much impossible.


“Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.”

― Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus


Images of beautiful women shouldn’t be threatening. They should be a welcome reminder that we are all physical creatures, inhabiting skins that long for one another’s touch.


That’s not sleazy. It’s beautiful. For men and women both.




Lots of love,




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