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Why Calvin Klein's ads with FKA twigs are being banned?

It has to do with the sexist and racist double standard

Why Calvin Klein's ads with FKA twigs are being banned? It has to do with the sexist and racist double standard

Jeremy Allen White vs FKA twigs. Both talented and beautiful. Both in the spotlight as the face and body of Calvin Klein. But for different reasons. The first went viral for his shots in boxers on the rooftops of New York, thrilling millions of fans and generating $12.7 million in media exposure for Calvin Klein in 48 hours. The second, on the other hand, had her posters banned in the UK on the grounds of portraying the singer as "a stereotyped sexual object." Yet the images are similar, depicting the two artists with some pieces from the brand and little else on. What changes is the perception, judgment, and censorship of male and female bodies by others. Let's take a step back and see what happened.

The scandal campaign

Last March, Calvin Klein launched the Calvin Klein SS23 campaign featuring Kendall Jenner and FKA twigs, JENNIE, Michael B. Jordan, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson personally and intimately interpreting the "Calvin or Nothing" concept while wearing pieces from the Underwear and Calvin Klein Jeans collection for the season and little else. Now, about a year later, the UK has something to say about these black-and-white shots taken by the creative duo Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, but only those involving FKA twigs. In particular, the scandal was sparked by an image of the Cellophane singer with the left side of her body exposed and the right side covered by a shirt. It all started with complaints from some citizens (apparently two British narcotics agents) who argued that the images were "excessively sexualized" and objectified women. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the body regulating advertising in the UK, then supported the complaints and decided to ban the advertisement.

What the Advertising Standards Authority's ruling says

The ASA believed that the advertisement could cause serious offense by objectifying women. In the released statement, it is mentioned that such an image "draws the viewer's attention to the model's body and not the advertised clothing." It continues by emphasizing that, by focusing on FKA twigs' "physical features," it presents her "as a stereotyped sexual object. We have, therefore, concluded that this is an irresponsible advertisement that can cause serious offense." Thus, it was withdrawn from circulation. The spotlight was also on Kendall Jenner's shots, who, despite being captured wearing only a pair of jeans while topless, covering her breasts with crossed arms, was not subjected to censorship because, according to the ASA, it adhered to the expected level of nudity for lingerie advertising. FKA twigs' judgment, on the other hand, was harsh and violent, emphasizing that "her nudity and facial expression, including the direct gaze and open mouth, gave the image a general sexual openness." Reading sentences like these makes it clear that the male gaze, misogynistic and objectifying, is not in CK's advertising but in those who judge it.

FKA twigs' response

Following the ASA's decision, FKA twigs posted her response on Instagram. "Instead, I see a beautiful and strong woman of color whose incredible body has endured more pain than you can imagine," she wrote. After specifying that she does not see "any stereotyped sexual object" in that image, the singer focused the spotlight on the real issue, the "double standards", the double standard that judges male and female bodies differently. Even more so if the body in question is not white and does not conform to the commonly accepted beauty stereotype in society. Before thanking CK, Mert & Marcus "who gave me a space to express myself exactly as I wanted," she proudly and decisively reiterated, "I will not change my narrative," but also that she is "proud of my physicality and believe that the art I create is on par with women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Grace Jones who have broken barriers in the field of emancipation through their sexuality." Calvin Klein also disagrees with the ASA's censorship and stated that "the images were not vulgar and represented two confident and empowered women who chose to identify with the Calvin Klein brand, and the ads contained a progressive and enlightened message."

Who is afraid of FKA twigs?

The ASA's overreaction, reminiscent of the novel The Scarlet Letter, a world in which only the woman with the A for adulteress was branded, from which we seem not to have evolved at all. We view, judge, comment, analyse and censor the female body differently to the male body. And it's glaring and even disturbing when we consider that these days we all (or almost all) adore the SS2024 campaign featuring Jeremy Allen White, in which the protagonist of The Bear is mostly shirtless and wearing only the brand's boxer shorts. It's hard to find a single negative comment or judgement among the actor's viral images and videos that speaks of commercialisation or devalues him as a person. Even less has it occurred to anyone to launch a censorship campaign against him. No matter how much skin can be seen in the pictures of Allen White and FKa Twigs, the sight of a woman celebrating her body according to her own ideas is always disturbing. This is all the more true if this woman is not white, queer or has a non-conforming body. When will a woman who shows herself the way she wants, behaves the way she wants and says what she thinks stop scaring us? And when will we stop talking about other people's bodies, whether female, male or non-binary? According to the latest news, it's always too late.