(Illustrated by Lauren Wade)

What If Fashion Ads Objectified Men the Same Scary Way They Do Women?

The style world is abuzz over two influencers allegedly abusing their power with young women. We examined what their iconic ads might look like if guys were the ones in compromising positions.
Jul 9, 2014· 4 MIN READ
Regular TakePart contributor Holly Eagleson writes about social issues, culture, lifestyle, and food for Redbook, Marie Claire, Glamour, and others.
Lauren Wade has worked as a photographer and editor for The Style Network, NBC, Daily Candy and elsewhere.

It’s been a rough few weeks for pervy middle-aged guys in the fashion industry.

First, photographer Terry Richardson was the subject of a much discussed New York magazine feature that questioned whether the lensman is an artist or a predator. The piece explored more than a decade of allegations of abusive behavior toward fledgling models, who told of Richardson asking them to perform graphic sex acts to further their careers.

Even high-profile models have long expressed disgust at Richardson’s methods. In 2010, supermodel Rie Rasmussen told Page Six, “He takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of. They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves.” Richardson pinned his unconventional methods on an unhappy childhood, telling New York, “I don’t have any regrets about the work at all.… I’m okay with myself about everything, and that to me is the most important thing.”

Meanwhile, on June 18, American Apparel CEO Dov Charney was unceremoniously dismissed from his position because of the A.A. board’s “ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.” A smattering of the allegations he’s faced during his tenure: holding an employee as a personal sex slave for eight months, sexually harassing multiple models and employees, assaulting a store manager, and using ethnic and racist slurs with staff. His questionable behavior had been common knowledge for at least a decade, starting with a notorious 2004 Jane magazine article in which he masturbated in front of a reporter.

Why the ouster now? The depressing but predictable answer is money. The board didn’t seem to mind his sketchy behavior when the company stock was $15 a share in 2007. American Apparel leaders only took action after stocks plummeted to 47 cents in April and the deductible on the company’s employment liability insurance surged to $1 million from $350,000, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. (Charney, who owns a 27 percent stake in the company, is trying to wrestle control of it back from the board.)

The eerie similarities between the men’s alleged predation—along with their shared predilection for oversize glasses and ’70s-porn facial hair—had the ladies at Jezebel wondering if they’re the same person. It also got us thinking about how the fashion industry has turned a blind eye to their antics for years. Imagine the CEO of an insurance agency engaging in super-NSFW nude dances around clothed subordinates of the opposite sex. Or your boss claiming, as Richardson has, that getting naked makes colleagues feel more comfortable doing their job. Crazy, right?

Illustrated by Lauren Wade

Richardson and Charney aren’t the first to create hostile work environments, nor are they pioneers in exploiting sexuality to sell clothes. The Mad Men of the world mastered that in the ’60s. However, their porny influence has trickled down through the ad industry to an alarming degree in the last two decades. Whether or not the recent controversy will lead to the downfall of either, it's time someone called out the rampant sexism they've fostered. What better way to start than by replacing the women in controversial ads with dudes like Charney and Richardson? They're just as disturbing as you'd expect, but only half as distressing as the originals.

Sisley ad, photographed by Terry Richardson, 2006

Illustrated by Lauren Wade

Look, we’re all adults here, open to a variety of lifestyles. But this girl looks less like she’s about to use her safe word than like she wishes she could reach her pepper spray. This ad isn’t 50 Shades of Grey Rape. It’s straight-up sexual violence. It isn’t less upsetting when a dude takes her place.

Tom Ford for Men ad, photographed by Terry Richardson, 2007

Illustrated by Lauren Wade

We fear they might have made a mistake on the text here. Shouldn't it say “Tom Ford for Male Entitlement”? The headless model’s porny vibe says it all: Any man who spritzes this potion deserves unfettered access to breasts that are oiled like a dipstick. Too bad this plasticky ad loses so much of its luster when a dude’s hairy chest takes the starring role. The red mani is still a nice touch.

American Apparel ad, 2010

Illustrated by Lauren Wade

Unlike other A.A. ads that featured Charney in bed with models (with a choice cocaine reference) or having his crotch licked, this one doesn’t demand a Silkwood shower after viewing.

But the product here is also inexplicably marketed to women. As the ladies among us know, when you’re this close to naked, who needs a pair of nylons to seal the deal? Then you realize, oh, right, it’s not really for the female consumer. It’s all about the gaze of the male behind the lens, the one who’s really in control here.

American Apparel ad, 2007

Illustrated by Lauren Wade

American Apparel’s website states that its advertising campaign “has become as synonymous with our brand name as the signature Made in the USA basics.” We’re not really sure how the virtues of domestic manufacturing equate with flashing one’s rear, but fine. You can at least hand it to the company for its firm equal opportunity stance on mooning.

The problem here is that the woman who belongs to this particular rear doesn’t seem to have much agency. Her look is that of a bit player hustled into performing in a shoddily filmed amateur porno. The scene is totally played out, and it does no favors for real ladies who might buy American Apparel’s tops and hosiery.

Marc Jacobs ad, photographed by Juergen Teller, 2008

Surely the acclaimed lensman behind this ad didn’t intend to telegraph the message “Ladeez be trash!” But the idea that femininity is a disposable commodity couldn’t be clearer. The ad also reinforces the insidious idea that women should feel alienated from their body parts, even if their gams are as sleek as Victoria Beckham’s in this photograph. If the ad weren’t gross enough on its own, our version ups the skeeve factor to hairy new levels.