Clothes retailer American Apparel has been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority for “offensive” adverts for schoolwear that had the “potential to normalise predatory sexual behaviour” towards young women.
Two images, one from the brand’s website and another from its page on the social media site Instagram, featured a young woman bending over in a short skirt so that her underwear is visible.
The images, which the advertising watchdog said were linked to the brand’s “School Days” and “Back to School” ranges, were edited so “the focus was on her buttocks and groin rather than on the skirt being modelled”. ASA said the ads imitated voyeuristic “up-skirt” photographs taken without the subject’s consent.
It is the sixth time in the past two and a half years that the watchdog has banned ads by the US fashion chain for the portrayal of young women.
“We considered the ads had the effect of inappropriately sexualising school-age girls and were therefore offensive and irresponsible,” ASA said in a ruling that follows protests on social media last month when the images first appeared.
In April 2012 ASA said a series of adverts “inappropriately sexualised young women” and December that year another was judged to have “inappropriately sexualised a model who appeared to be a child”. Last year the watchdog said images on the retailer’s website were “gratuitous” and gave the “impression that the women were vulnerable and in sexually provocative poses”.
In its latest ruling, ASA told the firm to ensure its future advertising was “prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society”.
In its response to complaints about the adverts, American Apparel said its approach “was not graphic, explicit or pornographic, but was designed to show a range of different images of people who were natural, not posed and real”.
It added that the models were “happy, relaxed and confident in expression and pose”, and that the model in the ads was 30 and was one of its photographers. The firm said the ads were not intended to represent an underage model or to be linked to any “Back to School” marketing effort.
The latest criticism of the retailer comes as it investigates alleged misconduct by its founder, and now suspended chief executive, Dov Charney, who was voted out by its board in June.
Charney, who has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, is currently acting as a consultant to the brand. The company’s website says he oversees the majority of its “creative content” including ads.