The French Know Sexy

American Apparel storefront

American Apparel strikes again! The controversial retail group lead by the often notorious Dov Charney, was under fire again for the use of explicit photos in their advertising. The girls were reported to look “vulnerable” – something that is seen as demeaning, and probably should be. However, the company is only one of the more overt examples in the Fashion Industry that bring up the issue concerning the difference between “pushing boundaries” with sexual content and crossing the line.

Huffington Post released the article saying, “American Apparel and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have a rather thorny relationship, one based on pushing boundaries and subsequently getting punished for pushing those boundaries. On Facebook, we’d probably label it “It’s Complicated.” However, what can also readily be seen is the promotion of negative stereotypes through demeaning sexual images of young women and the underlying effect it has on the current and future generations.

The unfortunate side note of the American Apparel example is that, despite evidence of Mr. Charney’s history regarding sexual harassment lawsuits, the company’s image remains untarnished. This brings up other issues in contemporary society that tie into topics like domestic abuse, something rampant in pop culture and further idealized through things like the Twilight series and Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown. It seems some young women are rather accepting of this negative culture, so much so that when something that should be considered abhorrent comes along in the media, it disappears just as easily as it came about. Again, this issue would require a much deeper analysis and a different article focus, so it will not be further addressed at this time.

This brings me back to the discussion of “porno chic.” In an article by Fashionista today, a thought-provoking interview with porn star, Stoya, led me to further explore this issue, “S&M themes crop up in runway collections; sexuality oozes in photo shoots that follow in the tradition of the inimitable Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton; we frequently use phrases like “shoe porn” and Carine Roitfeld created a need for the phrase “porno chic,” (Tyler McCall). It certainly makes the issue sticky when one considers the positive aspects of becoming more relaxed about nudity and sexuality in culture, but at the same time finds it difficult to determine where it stops being experimental and becomes sexist and detrimental.

For instance, many European cultures have a much healthier acceptance and understanding of sexuality embedded in their culture. You still have influential people, including artists and editors like the aforementioned Ms. Roitfeld, that push boundaries with their medium, but it never presents the same stark contrast as in North America. Does that mean it is not an issue there? No, but it’s interesting to note that a healthier base perspective might reduce other problems regarding negative sexual content.

If for instance you read a copy of French Vogue, you’ll notice that it contains equal parts luxury duds and perky breasts. Although nudity will always offend some people, the basic feeling you get when you see this is not disgust but acceptance of it as artistic license, and sometimes just as part of the outfit. If, however, you see an advertisement featuring a 15 year old girl seductively licking ice cream to sell a pair of shorts, your first thought is likely (and hopefully) that it isn’t right to sexualize people still categorized as “children” and that no claim to ‘artistic license’ would be an acceptable excuse for it. The same goes for issues like with American Apparel: it isn’t that the clothing is better or even necessarily sexual but if the content, and the intention behind that content, is likely unsavoury why does it not deserve the same consideration as do retailers with poor environmental histories? They are different topics, sure, but they both have negative implications on the population.

Although it is a potentially negative thing to quell the exploration of sexual content in different mediums, it is equally negative to then blindly accept any form of it. Of course you shouldn’t have to consider the intent behind every nipple and provocative angle, but being on the lookout for questionable content is always a positive thing. Like with anything else, it is good to know your values and how far you are willing to be pushed because seedy content will always exist to some degree, but it is up to us what we’re willing to accept as sexy and just plain sordid.

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