A 30-second Lane Bryant ad for their spring 2016 "This Body" campaign was rejected by major networks like NBC and ABC for “indecency." The ad features several plus-size models kickboxing, rocking denim, posing nude, and affirming what their bodies can do. “This body is made for love,” one model says while breastfeeding. “This body is made for proving them wrong,” says model Precious Lee. “It’s made for being bold, powerful, and sexy,” says Sports Illustrated cover girl Ashley Graham. It’s a holistic, celebratory ad, portraying women in love with themselves and their bodies. Of course they didn’t let us have this one. God forbid we air anything that’s actually body-positive, right?
A representative from NBC claims the ad was rejected “as part of the normal advertising standards process” in order to “comply with broadcast indecency guidelines,” but it’s hard to believe that no bias was involved in the rejection. The ad features no more bare skin than your run-of-the-mill Victoria’s Secret commercial. Graham herself made this point in 2010, the last time a commercial of hers was rejected, telling CBS: “Victoria's Secret commercials are airing all throughout the day, but when it comes to a Lane Bryant commercial, we have a little bit of extra, you know, overflowing, and then everybody freaks out."
There’s a lot hiding behind that insidious term “indecency." Sexuality runs rampant in advertising; networks have no qualms about running lingerie ads in general. The thing they actually find “indecent” (read: threatening) is an ad showing women celebrating their selves and their sizes, even when those sizes aren’t the size zero we’ve all been told to aspire to. As Ashley Graham pointed out when she was featured on Ellen Degeneres in February, “plus-size starts at size 8 and goes to size 16. So the majority of people in this room are plus-size.” Her recent Sports Illustrated cover was the first in 52 years to feature a model of her size. It was a revolutionary step, so of course it caused upset in protectors of the status quo, like model Cheryl Tiegs, who called Graham’s cover “not healthy.”
This “not healthy” label rings eerily similar to the “indecent” label. These are ways of sneakily policing women’s bodies when those bodies don’t fit into hyper-narrow definitions of beauty. It’s also the policing of women’s bodies as actual human bodies who do actual human things like breastfeed. (The recent #BoobsForBernie scandal shows just how controversial public breastfeeding still is). Apparently, America just isn’t ready for body-positive advertising yet.
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