“The female form [is] not a matter of vulgarity or indecency”, a women’s lingerie retailer has said, slamming advertising guidelines it claims treat men and women differently. But the governing body disagrees.
Australia’s self-governing advertising industry body Ad Standards recently released a list of the 10 most complained about ads in the first six months of 2019.
In ninth spot was an ad by Honey Birdette — a poster featuring the back of a woman wearing “a strappy bra, garter and underwear” leaning against a motorbike.
Ad Standards upheld the complaints, finding that it did breach Australian standards around the sexualisation of women.
“I find this advert pornographic in nature and highly inappropriate to be placed in a shopfront in a shopping centre that has a high volume of children and families in attendance. Young children and others faced with these images have their innocence threatened,” one complainant wrote.
“They demean women by objectifying them as sex objects, and I have no doubt that young girls, in particular, would be detrimentally impacted by them,” said another.
In its finding, Ad Standards noted that section 2.2 of the industry code of ethics states: “Advertising or marketing communications should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people”. And that section 2.4 reads: “Advertising or marketing communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience”.
It ruled that the ad had breached both sections, but dismissed claims it had breached another section pertaining to health and safety.
According to Ad Standards, Honey Birdette had not responded during its hearings or after its verdict was made.
“The advertiser has not provided a response to the [Community Panel’s] determination. Ad Standards will continue to work with the advertiser and other industry bodies regarding this issue of non-compliance.”
Guidelines are ‘a frightening development’: Honey Birdette
Days after Ad Standards released its list of consumer complaints, Honey Birdette launched a scathing attack on guidelines around lingerie advertising it claimed to have received from Ad Standards.
In a statement, Honey Birdette founder Eloise Monaghan said the guidelines restrict the advertising of lingerie and “unfairly targets women, women’s sexuality and the gay female community”.
Blasting a perceived double standard by gender, Ms Monaghan said the guidelines said that portraying a man and woman kissing was deemed appropriate by the guidelines, but a lesbian couple embracing was not. She also said that high-cut body suits and G-strings would no longer be able to be advertised without breaching the guidelines.
“This has to stop! Why are men allowed and women not allowed to show their bodies?” Ms Monaghan said.
“Why are we teaching young girls and women to be ashamed of their bodies? The female form is not a matter of vulgarity or indecency.”
She continued: “The changes to these guidelines are a frightening development for the modern woman and Ad Standards should be ashamed of themselves. These standards are highly archaic and repugnant to all women not just across Australia but globally.
“I won’t be silenced and let this go. We are here to empower women and we are going to continue to do that.”
Petition nets thousands of signatures
Through the Honey Birdette website, Ms Monaghan has launched a petition alongside the hashtag #notaskingforit, seeking 100,000 signatures to “protect women from outrageous double standards in advertising”.
As of 10:24am on Friday (5 July), the website recorded 62,062 signatures on the petition.
Ms Monaghan also lambasted suggestions that depicting women in lingerie encourages violence against women, with the petition page featuring a male model wearing Emporio Armani underwear under the heading “Does the following ad lead to sexual violence against men?”
“Women should have the right to set their own boundaries and identities around sexuality,” Ms Monaghan said.
“We need a revolution which allows women [to] reclaim sexual independence, and the gay female community freedom to express themselves as they wish, where they are not objects of gender bias rules, ridicule, shame or the patriarchy.”
According to its website, Honey Birdette was established in 2006. It retails lingerie as well as “luxury bedroom accessories” and “high-end toys”.
Ad Standards denies changes, discrimination
A spokesperson for Ad Standards denied there had been any change to advertising standards around lingerie, however, stating the AANA Code of Ethics continues to be “the standard applied in Australia”.
“Ad Standards routinely publishes ‘determination summaries’ for issues under the Codes we administer, which are a guide for advertisers on the types of material that are appropriate or not in advertisements,” the spokesperson told My Business.
“Determination summaries work to help advertisers ensure their advertising meets community standards per the advertising Codes administered by Ad Standards.”
The spokesperson admitted that “lingerie advertising in shopping centres is a current issue of concern in some parts of the community”, and stated the body has been “working to provide additional guidance on what type of content the Ad Standards Community Panel considers is acceptable under the AANA Code of Ethics in media which is available to a broad audience including children”.
“Advertisers are free to use whomever they wish in advertising, and featuring same-sex couples in an advertisement is not an issue that would breach any section of the Code,” they said, citing past examples where complaints were dismissed, including a Swarovski television ad featuring five couples, including same-sex couples, embracing and giving each other jewellery, and another for Magnum ice cream featuring two brides on their wedding day.
High-cut, sexualised poses behind ruling
Ad Standards stood by its decision that Honey Birdette’s advertising had breached the code, and said that the garments themselves as well as the poses in which the models were photographed were behind the ruling, not the models’ gender or sexual orientation.
“The Community Panel found that the body suit was extremely high-cut and exposed a large amount of the woman’s groin area and this, in combination with the sexualised pose of the women, was a highly sexualised image which did not treat the issue of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the broad audience of a shopping centre,” the spokesperson said.
“A similar image in the same campaign featuring the two women was considered to be less sexualised for the shopping centre audience and did not breach the Code.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.