If Kids Think the Models Are Dead, There’s Definitely a Problem With Fashion Ads
Women in fashion ads look sick, dead, or hungry, while their male peers look happy—or like college-educated superheroes. Those are some of the reactions a group of Spanish boys and girls shared in “Niños vs. Moda” (Children vs. Fashion), a video project that turns the spotlight on the sexist imagery prevalent in advertising.
The project is the brainchild of Madrid-based artist Yolanda Dominguez. She asked the eight-year-olds to view images of ads for fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, Dior, and Pepe Jeans and describe what they saw.
As you can see in the video above, many of their responses are hilarious—you might laugh because the youngsters’ reactions reveal some of the Zoolander-style silliness in the fashion world. But as Dominguez wrote on the video’s YouTube page, their opinions also “expose the implicit violence and unequal treatment of men and women.”
“She needs a first-aid kit to get healed,” one girl says after viewing a fashion layout from Spanish luxury bag maker Loewe. The ad features a female model who is holding her arm in front of her face as if to ward off a blow. Or maybe she has fallen over and needs help? Who knows, but the model manages to keep holding on to her tan-colored Loewe bag.
And seriously, why is supermodel Cara Delevingne smiling so hard while looking like she's being stuffed into a garbage can in an advertisement for Pepe Jeans? “The lady is laughing. I don’t know why,” says one little boy. “Either they are helping her or they are abusing her,” speculates another boy.
The contrast between how men and women are portrayed is particularly evident when the kids begin looking at ads featuring male models. Instead of being positioned on floors or toilets as if they’re in need of assistance, the men look put together and in control. No looking as if they’re fighting, drunk, ill, or hungry for the group of gents in a Hugo Boss ad the children view. Given how supercool the male models look, it’s unsurprising that the boys and girls believe the guys resemble heroes, or spies, or, as one boy puts it, “They’re studying to go to university.”
Dominguez wondered why “nobody denounces” the way the women are objectified in these ads and the effect such imagery has on children. Kids this young aren’t usually flipping through the pages of Vogue and coming across an editorial spread with women laid out on the street as if they’ve been shot in a drive-by. But by the time they’re in fifth grade, many tween girls become consumers of fashion mags, which negatively affects the way they perceive their bodies.
In one recent study, 69 percent of fifth- to 12th-grade girls reported that magazine pictures influence their idea of the perfect body shape. So it makes sense that along with beginning to believe they should be thin enough to be stuffed into a trash can like Delevingne, girls are also noticing the sexist messages similar to what this group of Spanish children observes.
If the adults around them don’t explicitly educate them about why the objectification they’re seeing in these ads is wrong, those girls might grow up believing guys should look like the boss, and women should look like whatever it is that the model in the Miu Miu advertisement is doing with her head pressed on the floor and her rear end tooted up to the sky.
But maybe we shouldn’t give up hope. “I wouldn’t like to be that girl,” says one of the kids after seeing the ad.