How Sexual is too Sexual?

Earlier this week, American Apparel UK took to Instagram posting a sexually explicit photo of a girl leaning into a car in a very short skirt. The models underwear is clearly visible, but her face is not. The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority has since banned the photo for “sexualizing school girls.” (1) They believe these photos are inappropriate, because the skirt is advertised as school wear. 


American Apparel tried to justify the photo, saying that “its approach was not graphic, explicit or pornographic, and was designed to show a range of people who were natural and real.” (1) In addition, the model in the photo was 30 years old and the company did not intend for the girl to appear “vulnerable or exploitive.” (1) American Apparel removed the photo, and was issued a warning from the ASA advising them to, “ensure its future advertising was prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and contained nothing to cause serious or widespread offense.” (1)

As consumers, we come across sexual adds all of the time, and this raises the question of what is appropriate in the advertising world. Sex sells, and the evidence is all around. Naked men and women are seen in adds quite frequently, and the population doesn’t take a second glance. Our culture has become desensitized to media, and embraced the new erotic direction our ads are going in, but it seems that some things can still cross the line.

The ASA found this ad provocative based solely on the fact that the girl is suppose to be school aged, but would people feel differently about this image if the skirt were a different color and had no connection to the phrase “back to school”? Is it really the image that is disturbing or the idea?

Women and girls are put into completely different categories. Women can be seen in much more compromising positions in well know advertising campaigns, and people find these innovative and effective. According to this standard, ad’s are allowed to objectify women, but not girls, because who really wants to see the underwear of an underaged teen?

For example, in this Carl’s Jr. ad, because Kate Upton is a woman and not a school girl the commercial was not criticized, even through one could argue that the add is much more provocative.


Is this the precedent we want our advertisements to set? Should the ASA have to ability to ban provocative ads? And should advertisers be allowed to objectify people?

1. Hall, E. (2014, September 3). American Apparel U.K. Ad Banned for Sexualizing Schoolgirls | Global News – Advertising Age. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from

2. Kate Upton Carl’s Jr. Commercial. (n.d.). Retrieved September 4, 2014, from

3 thoughts on “How Sexual is too Sexual?

  1. I think the objectification of women, in particular, in media has been a prevalent issue because of the Sofia Vergara controversy during the Emmys this year. But, to address the question, yes the ASA has every right to ban advertisements it deems inappropriate. It is likely that they tend to ban advertisements which may seem acceptable to us, because they tend to have larger demographic. For example, the advertisement would obviously seem innocent to a college student, but inappropriate in a family setting.


  2. I chose the same topic for my blog so I agree with much of what you said here. I feel like over the years the boundaries of what is considered sexually explicit have been expanding and will continue to do so. It makes me curious to think what kind of ads will be considered socially acceptable 20 or 30 years from now. One point you made that stood out to me was that while people don’t care that much about the degree of sexuality in an ad, what makes a difference is the context. I feel like that is an important aspect of advertising. We live in a less conservative time and I think its okay that things like sex are becoming less taboo in the mainstream, as long as we are making sure it is being advertised in a tasteful and appropriate way. In this case, advertising a “back to school” skirt that barely covers the butt is probably a bit inappropriate.


  3. This is not the first time American Apparel has been seen negatively in the media. Many of their campaigns or window displays often offend people. The ASA has every right to ban certain advertisements, but I feel like they are being less strict in some cases than others. I think the Kate Upton commercial is much worse than the American Apparel picture. Video advertising can be a lot more persuasive than an ad in a magazine or on Instagram. More people, especially children, are likely to see the TV ad. It doesn’t matter if it is an adult, I don’t think such a sexual ad should not be on TV.


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