Is airbrushing female models still a problem?

We all know that feeling when you walk into a shop and see how amazing that top or dress looks on the mannequin, but when you try it on, something just isn’t right. Those perfect, faceless creatures are designed to make clothes look good; they do a similar job to fashion models, who face intense pressure to maintain an idealised body image. Surely, though, our society can distinguish between a three-dimensional coat hanger and a representation of the female body?

American Apparel have been in trouble twice this week, first one of their ads was banned for “oversexualising children”. A statement from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said: “we considered the ad could be seen to sexualise a child. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and was likely to cause serious offence”. This is unfortunate seeing as CEO Paula Schneider recently stated that the company “doesn’t have to be overtly sexual. There’s a way to tell our story where it’s not offensive.”

Then a few days later it became apparent that they were airbrushing their models‘ nipples and pubic hair. It seems that they have reverted to thinking that natural bodies are too risky. The pictures on their website have clearly been airbrushed to make the women posing look like mannequins; translucent clothing reveals models’ bellybuttons but not nipples or pubic hair. American Apparel have a reputation for revealing and sexual advertisements, but it seems that now they have taken a drastic U-turn.

Aside from the disappointment that one of the only fashion companies to portray ‘real’ looking models is now airbrushing away anything human, critics have expressed concern that this is a very negative portrayal of the female body. Michelle Lytle, co-founder of TaTa Top¸ a brand which sells bikinis with nipples printed on them, argued that “this is a step in the wrong direction and is contributing to the sexualisation of a woman’s body”. How do we expect young people to grow up seeing all women as beautiful when the human parts and imperfections of models are constantly hidden away?

But then again, is there not a deeper problem here than the airbrushing? Should American Apparel be photographing and selling such revealing clothes in the first place? Campaigns such as Free The Nipple would argue not. They are a group fighting for equal nudity rights. They state that “the issues we’re addressing are equal rights for men and women, a more balanced system of censorship”. Hiding away the female body only serves to perpetuate the negative body image women are faced with every day.

What we need is more bodies on show. More bodies of different shapes and sizes in the industry that claims to deal in beauty. Of course, sexual clothing on underage looking models is unacceptable but surely sexual clothing is not the issue. Sexual clothing does not sexualise women, society does. When fashion models portray all types of beauty and society no longer cringes at female pubic hair, then we’ll be heading towards equality.


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January 2022
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