Misguided Moralising: Playboy Fashion Ads Cleared Of Sexualisation Claims

Even Britain’s notorious advertising censors couldn’t agree that this poster, featuring a fully-clothed 28-year-old-woman, was sexualising under-age girls.

Credit where credit’s due. We’ve criticised the ludicrously moralising and socially-engineering (and, as we have to constantly point out, entirely without legal status) Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) several times for their ludicrous decisions, often based on a single malicious complaint from the professionally offended. But even the ASA has a line in the sand for idiocy, it seems. This week, they threw out complaints against downmarket fashion brand Missguided over their promotion with Playboy.

When the company first licenced the Playboy brand a couple of years ago, there were the inevitable complaints that the company was sexualising young women by forcing them to buy clothing featuring a Bunny logo that was associated with a magazine that most of them have probably never heard of. So there was always likely to be some outrage over a public poster campaign for Playboy branded clothing, especially when Missguided tried to defend it with the rather ludicrous suggestion that the posters were about female empowerment (seriously, what is this obsession with blatantly commercial products being ’empowering’?). Inevitably, ‘more than eighteen’ (so, presumably, nineteen) people complained that the poster sexualised young women – more specifically, young women under eighteen.

The ASA has terrible form with condemning models who happen to look younger than they are, and in weirdly seeing children where everyone normal sees adults, but even their obsessions can only go so far. The model in the poster, as you can see, is clearly not a child – in fact, she is 28. More significantly, unless you believe that an exposed midriff is the height of sexual provocation, it’s hard to see how the poses could be seen as sexually provocative. They are, clearly, standard fashion poses, designed to be ‘attitudinal’ no doubt, but hardly sexy.

However, there seems little doubt that what had really rattled the cages of the complainants was the Playboy connection. For these people, Playboy is always sexual, and always exploitative. As we’ve seen in the past, when whole media-created moral panics took place over Playboy fashion and branded merchandise that young women inconveniently found appealing, there is a weird belief that simply wearing a Playboy bunny-branded top will send women – apparently all simple-minded souls who cannot make their own lifestyle choices – on the road to Hell.

The ASA has a depressing history with upholding clearly malicious nonsense, but even they couldn’t make this complaint fly. To have upheld it would have been to either place a blanket ban on Playboy products being advertised – and that would open up a whole can of worms and legal action that I doubt they wanted to be caught up in – or to brand all fashion modelling as inherently sexually provocative and all fashion models as permanent children, well into their thirties. The decision is a blow to the fanatics who still see Playboy as the ultimate evil, but they are hardly likely to give up. We’re overdue another moral panic about sexualisation – and have arguably been seeing the first stirrings of one in recent months – so hold onto your hats and don’t get complacent.

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