Sex Sells: The Female Image in Fashion

Sexuality and gender play a major role in most aspects of fashion marketing. The lengths to which advertisers will go to promote a product ultimately blurs the lines between what is classy and what is risqué, often creating a false image of beauty. Many argue that media regulators are not properly doing their job of enforcing guidelines and limitations as to what can and cannot be published, while others claim risqué ads are simply an aspect of the industry. The advertising business is an extremely prevalent and influential factor in modern life and has the power to embed these overly sexualized images into our society. Furthermore, where can one draw the line on their own perception of what is appropriate advertising and what is merely poor taste?

A controversial Marc Jacobs ad featuring actress Dakota Fanning, 2011 (Via Movieline)
A controversial Marc Jacobs ad featuring actress Dakota Fanning, 2011 (Via Movieline)

In 2011, Marc Jacobs collaborated with then 17-year old actress Dakota Fanning to promote their newest fragrance, Oh, Lola! The print ad featured Fanning in a small, nude lace dress gripping an oversized bottle of the perfume between her upper thighs. The text is minimally placed above and below the photograph, making Fanning and her bottle of perfume the main focus of the spread.  Most magazine readers in the U.S. would skim the image, perhaps recognizing the familiar face of the model, and continue reading. However, when the image was featured in several U.K. magazines and newspapers, it received heavy criticism for its inappropriate and suggestive nature. Readers claimed that the ad was too provocative and sexualized the image of a young girl, straying from its main purpose of advertising a product. The ad was banned from any further publications in the United Kingdom.

The fragrance company argued that their ad depicted no forms of sexual activity, ignoring the obvious nature of their image, and the sexual emotions it conveyed. This only further exposes the fact that fashion advertising manipulates the image of women, both young and old, to promote their products.

A more recent campaign by clothing brand American Apparel encountered a similar issue regarding the sexuality in their ads. The images used on the company’s website depicted models in vulnerable and erotic positions. Critics said that these ads were drawing attention to parts of the female body, objectifying and demeaning the female models, rather than promoting the clothing.  These online ads were banned from American Apparel’s website for offensive content and a violation of advertising code.

Whether it is viewed as an exploitation of sexuality or a tactful employment of gender specific imagery, the advertising industry is changing the image of the modern woman, and the fashion industry is accepting it.

Kate Marin is a staff writer. Email her at


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