It’s Time we Censor Sexism


Written by Dan Haze
24 Tuesday 24th October 2017

In recent years we’ve managed to make positive progress in advertising standards. Measures have been taken by Sadiq Kahn against body shaming tube adverts and the Advertising Standards Agency is trying to combat sexist representations of women in commercials. However, we’re still a long way off gender equality when it comes to advertising, as this story unfortunately proves.

London based tights company Heist Studios’ first ad campaign was rejected by London’s TFL for being “overtly sexual”. The photo in question depicts a strong female dancer, leaping in the air, with her back to the camera wearing only Heist tights.



Exterion Media, which holds the £1.1 billion advertising contract for the Tube advised that a boob tube (enter tube puns here) be photoshopped onto the model so that the campaign would pass regulations. TfL’s guidelines prohibit advertisements which depict “men, women or children in a sexual manner or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context. For example, while the use of underdressed people in most underwear advertising may be seen as an appropriate context, gratuitous use of an overtly sexual nature will be unacceptable.”

Heist has rightfully argued that their campaign is not sexual. By censoring an image of a strong woman that isn’t sexualised to start with,  Exterion Media are making sure that there are no images of women in a non sexualised context. By photoshopping a bandeau on the model, they are creating sexualised mystery that was never there in the first place, because she had her back to the camera. They are basically breaking the regulations that they are trying to enforce.

And this isn’t just happening in the UK, like Japanese knotweed the long, deep roots of the patriarchy reach both sides of the atlantic as we noticed a similar story breaking in the USA.

Thinx is an American brand that makes period-proof underwear. They’re latest campaign, which involves artistic images of a peeled grapefruit and an egg in a possible nod to Georgia O’Keefe with the text: ‘underwear for women with periods’ offers a welcome break from antiquated ideals regarding periods. However, like Heist Studios it has been denied by Outfront Media, the agency in charge of a portion of the adverts shown through the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York.


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Outfront Media claimed they’d rejected the adverts because they show ‘too much skin’, adding that the egg and grapefruit ‘seem inappropriate’, regardless of context. Their issue was because of the vagina-esque grapefruit and the mere mention of the word ‘period’. To get an advert on the transit system, companies have to stick to guidelines which don’t allow the portrayal of ‘sexual or excretory activities’ or anything promoting a ‘sexually oriented business’.

Again, we have a regulatory body trying to smudge the female experience, trying to push it into the shadows and portray it as something to be ashamed of. If both the female body and the female experience are inappropriate for the public, then how are women meant to exist in the public sphere? It doesn't make sense!

Both these examples of censoring and editing the female body are made even worse by the fact that they are across multiple posters on the underground and subway. Posters in public spaces are psychologically insidious and crucially, they take away the element of choice, even when you’re not looking at them, you still see them. So the images used for these posters are important, they could be shaping people's perceptions without them realising. But we already know this, because regulations are already in place for this same reason.

However these regulations are borderline antediluvian. The same regulations that stifle femininity also allow adverts like this through the net, despite their obvious stupidity.  We replace trains and renovate stations, so why can’t we do the same for our advertising standards? How can we begin to provide an alternative view of how women should be depicted in underwear if we can’t show it? It's time we start censoring sexism, rather than sexes.


Note: It bears mentioning that both companies involved in these disputes were founded by women.


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