Midweek Media: Lane Bryant’s ads too racy for Fox and ABC

Fox and ABC have told Lane Bryant that the reason they won’t run their ads when Lane Bryant wants, or without making lots of edits and adjustments, is that the ads are too racy. But these networks are just fine with running Victoria’s Secret ads. As Lane Bryant points out:

“Yes, these are the same networks that have scantily-clad housewives so desperate they seduce every man on the block — and don’t forget Bart Simpson, who has shown us the moon more often than NASA — all in what they call ‘family hour.’ … Does this smack of a double standard? Yep. It does to us, too.”

Our new commercials represent the sensuality of the curvy woman who has more to show the world than the typical waif-like lingerie model.  What we didn’t know was that the networks, which regularly run Victoria’s Secret and Playtex advertising on the very shows from which we’re restricted, would object to a different view of beauty.  If Victoria’s Secret and Playtex can run ads at any time during the 9pm to 10pm hour, why is Lane Bryant restricted only to the final 10 minutes?

By the way, you can see the commercial here:

It shows a nicely curvy white woman trying on dresses and bra/panty sets and looking at herself in the mirror – she smiles a lot at what she sees. Classy piano music plays in the background. We are shown some passing closeups of her waist. The female narrator with a standard American accent says: “Mom always said beauty was skin deep. A smile is the best make-up. It’s what’s underneath that counts.” Then she gets a text message on her phone: “Calendar Reminder: Meet Dan for lunch.” The narrator says, “Somehow I don’t think this is what Mom had in mind.” Her smile broadens. The narration says, “Introducing Cacique Intimates, exclusively at Lane Bryant – so sexy, so not what Mom would wear.” She puts a black overcoat on over her matching bra and panties and leaves the house, giving the camera a knowing look over her shoulder as she closes her front door behind her. (By the way, her home is gorgeous and looks expensive.) The final frame says “Nobody fits you like Lane Bryant” and so does the narration.

And here‘s the Victoria’s Secret ad Lane Bryant claims is being allowed to run in spots where theirs isn’t:

It shows a number of models (of various races) slinking around  in traditional Sexy Photo Shoot mode, as if they’re trying to show off their breasts and hips simultaneously. Rock music with a sort of jungle-savages-meet-Bollywood-as-retold-by-Honkies motif plays in the background. They all wear what I call the “Botox Glare” as a facial expression – a sullen look that’s meant to be sultry. We get closeups of be-pantied crotches, women running their hands over their bodies as draped cloths fall off of them, and wind – lots and lots of wind blowing hair. Many of the bras feature animal prints and there’s a corner of two bamboo walls where the women get pressed into the corner, suggesting a primal jungle stalking motif. The female narrator with some exotic-ish British Empire accent (sorry, I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be): “Victoria’s Secret introduces The Nakeds! The Nakeds – only at Victoria’s Secret.”

Lane Bryant seems to think the issue is simply the model’s size, and that’s entirely possible, knowing the prejudice of the entertainment industry against women who don’t try to minimize themselves in every way. They also talk about cleavage, but this makes no sense to me, as the VS ad features cleavage and close up crotch shots – and that cringey jungle motif that reminds me of the 1982 video for “Hungry Like the Wolf” (thankfully, this ad does not feature a Black-Woman-As-Tiger prancing around on all fours, but I was worried there for a minute).

Another possibility for what rankled the two networks is the clear implication that the Lane Bryant character is leaving her home for a sexual liaison with a man who probably isn’t her husband. She’s going to have sex on her own terms, whereas if you really want to stretch your brain, I suppose you could imagine that the VS models are virgins who just want to get some lingerie-wearing practice in before the big wedding night. But then any child old enough to be watching TV from 9-10pm already knows what semi-naked women prancing around are a code for in this society: some man’s gettin’ some tonight, haha.

Another contrast between the commercials is how happy the LB character seems. She’s smiling confidently, walking confidently – not stomping around with that special Botox glare. She’s going off to have a really good time on her own terms. I can see how that would bother a bunch of old farts at ABC and Fox even more than a beautiful body in a slightly larger size than commercials typically show.

Comments

  1. says

    I asked my husband, Known Heterosexual Male, what he thought about the 2 ads. He said:

    I don’t get it. I’ll definitely grant you that the Lane Bryant ad seems sexier to me — but then, it has a lot more of what I like. *g* Maybe that is in fact related to the network’s objection: the Victoria’s Secret models, while presented in sexier poses and posturing in an aggressively sexual way, exhibit a form of advertising-sexiness that isn’t actually all that stimulating. Maybe it’s because we’ve been desensitized through overexposure to that sort of thing. Or maybe that’s just me — you’d need a survey to rule it out, or perhaps even a scientifically measured experiment.

  2. says

    I think it’s also something to do with the fact that in the Lane Bryant ad, the woman is definitely in control of her sexuality, making the choice, being the active one. She is even narrating the ad, and clearly it’s her story. In the Victoria’s Secret ad, the women pose – for the viewer. They are passive, they are only trying to look sexy to the presumably male audience. They don’t narrate, they have no story of their own.

    So: if you are a confident woman who wants to look and feel sexy, take Lane Bryant. If you are a woman who wants to look sexy for her man, take Victoria’s Secret.

    And of course, the Lane Bryant model is gorgeous – that woman being “plus size” is ridiculous.

  3. says

    To both of you:

    Yes, the VS models are being served to us on a platter, and we see women’s nearly naked bodies being offered up like meat so many times a day, it can’t possibly still be sexy to anyone. Conversely, the LB ad is sexy because it’s telling a sexy story, and the woman who owns that story is sexy because she’s confident and fun.

  4. Fran Hartman says

    You make a good point, Jennifer. I wonder if over time, we’ve become desensitized to these kinds of ads. In some ways, they’re almost *asexual* – the overt thinness of the models and lack of any curviness at all has (and maybe this is just me) taken a lot of those undertones away. It’s really become a sad sort of objectification in that I don’t really see women in these ads at all anymore.

    Perhaps this is why the LB ad is so OMG!racy to some execs – we’re seeing someone who’s sexuality, woman-ne4ss, and actual *humanity* is present, and in a way that isn’t subsumed in all the expected Botox/wind machine/flying material effects that mark this kind of advertising. Just a woman and her story…and that story happens to be real, and involve sex. You can’t really pretend it’s something else, which must be kind of threatening.

  5. says

    A friend has also connected this with the reaction to Adam Lambert’s performance at the AMA Awards, in which he kissed a guy. In both cases, it’s the real-ness of sexual desire that’s threatening, especially coming from anybody but straight men.

    My husband also comments that even to him it’s a relief to see a woman presented as sexy whom he actually thinks is very sexy: with an attractive body type, old enough to know what she’s up to, and smiling at the thought of doing what she wants. Constantly being presented with images of women he doesn’t think are sexy as though they *are* is wearing on straight men, too.

  6. jennygadget says

    I think that this:

    “Another contrast between the commercials is how happy the LB character seems. … She’s going off to have a really good time on her own terms.”

    And this:

    “In both cases, it’s the real-ness of sexual desire that’s threatening, especially coming from anybody but straight men.”

    Are a lot of what it’s about.

    It reminds me of what Jack Kirby talked about in This Film is Not Yet Rated (and what Amanda at Pandagon talked about in her review of the movie).

    The difference in the models’ sizes are important not just because the Lane Bryant models is different from the norm, but also because it speaks to those ideas. First – as someone said elsewhere – her size suggests that she is more open to indulging in her own desires, while the VS model’s size suggests control and a willingness to mold oneself to others’ expectations. Also, the Lane Bryant model isn’t waiting for anyone’s approval before she goes out and has fun – or dares to dress in sexy underwear.

  7. says

    The Lane Bryant commercial does seem to be more genuinely sexy. I think what y’all are saying about the model seeming to have more agency in it than the models in the Victoria’s Secret spot do is right on.

    Incidentally, for the curious, the model in the Lane Bryant ad is Ashley Graham (who possibly identifies as Latina?). She’s spoken about the ad a little bit. If you can watch videos, there’s an interview here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/23/lane-bryant-lingerie-comm_n_549680.html

  8. says

    In a way, this discussion ends up supporting Fox and ABC’s decisions. If their interpretation of “family friendly” is “nothing really sexy”, then the LB ad is restricted because it’s actually sexy, sexy in a honestly arousing, real way. The VS ad — partly because of its style, partly because we’re desensitized — is the lingerie equivalent of cartoon violence, the Acme 10-Ton Weight on the coyote’s head. If they want to keep out sexy, the LB ad is what they want to keep out.

  9. says

    But I think Fox/ABC/et al *have* accepted that proposition. I think at least a (vocal, powerful) substantial minority of Americans have, too. Example: Janet Jackson, Superbowl.

    Several European e-friends of mine have said that the LB ad is the sort of thing they expect to see on their TVs — that it has a European sensibility, rather than an American one. And there’s no question that there are a *lot* of Americans who would not be OK with that.

  10. sbg says

    So … sexy is okay if it’s presented gratuitiously, but it is not okay if there is purpose behind it (meaning: for her, not just for the male gaze).

    Huh.

  11. says

    I don’t have time to respond to everyone individually right now, though I do think every comment in this thread is very interesting. This:

    I wonder if over time, we’ve become desensitized to these kinds of ads. In some ways, they’re almost *asexual* – the overt thinness of the models and lack of any curviness at all has (and maybe this is just me) taken a lot of those undertones away. It’s really become a sad sort of objectification in that I don’t really see women in these ads at all anymore.

    and this:

    In a way, this discussion ends up supporting Fox and ABC’s decisions. If their interpretation of “family friendly” is “nothing really sexy”, then the LB ad is restricted because it’s actually sexy, sexy in a honestly arousing, real way.

    Yes. Unless you’re so young that anything half-way sexual is sexy to you, there’s often a discrepancy between what most people genuinely find sexy and what the media presents as sexy. Even with actors, you’ll find the audience often loves “nerds” or “sidekicks” more than the Barbie & Ken dolls we’re told to find sexy.

    If you dig into that discrepancy, what you find is pretty simple and disturbing (and I’m going to put it in heteronormative terms because that’s all the industry cares about): the industry believes most men are MORE aroused by a woman lacking agency than by a woman possessing sexiness. This would make sense for teenage boys, who really aren’t ready to deal with women yet (hence statutory rape laws), but men who find women so threatening they prefer a doll over a fascinating living creature are in a teenage state of arrested development. Which is what the media wants from us.

    Our culture encourages men not to grow up, because boys with the spending power of men are *awesome* consumers of crap.

  12. jennygadget says

    Doctor Science – this is why I brought up This Flim is Not Yet Rated.

    One of the arguments it makes is not just that violence is considered to be more “family friendly” than sexual pleasure, but that this has reached such an extreme that depictions of sexual violence are considered more permissible/family friendly than depictions of sexual pleasure – especially sexual pleasure experienced by people who are not white, hetero men.

    This holds true in the two ads as well. It is not just that the LB ad is “sexier” than the VS ad, it’s also that the VS ad has an undercurrent of violence that the LB ad does not have. Rather than making the VS ad more questionable, the suggestions of violence create a misdirection for the sexiness that is there (I don’t think its accidental that the VS ad ends more violently – and with less sexual content – than it starts with) and makes it more palatable to an audience that is used to watching violence but not pleasure. But in doing so, it is reinforcing some really fucked up ideas about what sex is.

  13. jennygadget says

    And to clarify, the reason why I think that means that we *aren’t* supporting ABC etc. argument is because I think we are actually using terms like “sexy” to mean two different things, depending on the context.

    LB is “sexy” in a way that the VS is not because it depicts things we find to be sexy/it elicits feelings of sexual pleasure.

    But BOTH the VS and the LB ad are “sexy” in the sense that they contain sexual content.

  14. says

    Doctor Science: I’m European myself, and while the ad may have a European sensibility, we also have a lot of international ads that are simply dubbed with German language and titles.

    Also, I don’t even know how susbtantial that minority is – all it takes is a couple of letters of complaint to make a fuzz.

  15. SunlessNick says

    Even with actors, you’ll find the audience often loves “nerds” or “sidekicks” more than the Barbie & Ken dolls we’re told to find sexy. - Jennifer Kesler

    Or candid pictures more than airbrushed ones.

    Chiming in on the subject of agency, more than anything, the difference for me is where they’re looking. The women in the VS ad are mostly looking down or at the camera (“at the viewer”) in an ostensibly sultry way – though the product is meant to be for women, I’m being invited to imagine that the dancing and posing in the ad is for me. I don’t get that sense in the LB ad – the look to the camera at the end is more conspiratorial than sultry, and the rest of the time, she’s looking at what she’s doing (even when facing the camera, she’s not really focussing on it) – so I don’t have that same sense of invitation.

    The LB ad seems like it’s aimed squarely at women, to convince them of something they’d like to wear; the VS one seems as much aimed at men, to convince them of something they’d like to see women in.

    I wonder if over time, we’ve become desensitized to these kinds of ads. In some ways, they’re almost *asexual* - Doctor Science

    Yes. I mean, it seems like the visual equivalent of writing “Kiss. Sex sex. Canoodle. Watch where that lands, we might need it later. Fuck; toy. Fuck; Orgasm.” … and expecting it to work as an erotic story.

    But it’s also, possibly, impersonal. …

    the industry believes most men are MORE aroused by a woman lacking agency than by a woman possessing sexiness. - Jennifer Kesler

    The women in the VS ad are filmed in an empty way, shorn of any sense personality or identity (even shorn of physical substance given how think the industry demands they be); even the eroticism has a sense of the ritual. Five minutes after seeing it, I can’t remember what any of them looked like.

    If that’s what I’m supposed to find sexy, then it’s as if…

    sexy is okay if it’s presented gratuitiously, but it is not okay if there is purpose behind it (meaning: for her, not just for the male gaze). - sbg

    … the “gaze” is entirely literal. It’s like sexy or sex are unthinkable outside the paradigm of a man masturbating to an image. Not just a woman with her own sexuality being denied, but even a man* seeing sex as something he does with a woman – she has to be reduced to an abstract that he’s jerking off to.

    * Heteronormative again, for the same reason as Jennifer, above.

    Ok, there’s been a bit of a subject drift from the ads there. And I’m not sure I’m making sense.

    that this has reached such an extreme that depictions of sexual violence are considered more permissible/family friendly than depictions of sexual pleasure - jennygadget

    Ugh. (Ran out of rant).

  16. Emily says

    So, I saw that ad on American Idol last night. I guess Fox finally got the message? Although they aren’t exactly known for paying attention to what their viewers have to say or making good decisions…

  17. says

    You all are missing the point. It’s not about being too sexy at all. That’s just a smokescreen the networks used to reject the ad. The reality is that, to paraphrase Janeane Garafalo, the networks think that people will vomit all over themselves at the sight of a real woman. They don’t want to run an ad that shows, in their view, an overweight woman in skimpy underwear.

  18. says

    I’ve allowed Monkey Migraine’s comment through because s/he posted it twice, obviously not having bothered to read through the comment guidelines. Now s/he will find out why I didn’t post it the first time:

    Don’t ever tell people they’re missing the point. They’ll surely think you’re missing it, too, because guess what? They disagree with you!

    And I do disagree. Your comment lacks insight, and also violates another rule of the site, which is: don’t set up a strawman to beat. It may be easy, but it’s an asshole tactic. The post clearly referenced her size as one of the possible network issues, so your entire comment is pointless and irrelevant.

    No one missed the point. We considered that point and decided to go deeper. You are the one who missed the point.

    So now you know.

  19. Patrick says

    Just wanting to add that I hate, hate, hate the term “real woman,” which people (not Hathor Legacy) have repeatedly used regarding this ad. Those saying that the LB model “looks like a real woman” are engaging in exactly the same sort of One True Body Type BS that they claim to be decrying – they just disagree about which body type it should be.

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