‘Sex sells’ may be a inarguable rule in the advertising world, but clearly that doesn’t extend to Paris. A hot-button issue that never seems to be fixed is that of women’s representation in the media. It is no secret that women are often sexualized in order to sell products in advertising campaigns, and a nearly naked model on a billboard or magazine cover is not an uncommon sight. However, mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris has taken a firm stance against this practice by banning any outdoor advertising that is “sexist or discriminatory.”
Hidalgo is not the first to make this decision – in 2016, London mayor Sadiq Khan banned the display of advertisements “likely to create body confidence issues, particularly among young people” on public transportation. He cited his role as “the father of two teenage girls” to explain why he was “extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.” Khan said, “It is high time it came to an end.” The particular advertisement that sparked this decision was Protein World’s “Beach Body Ready” campaign that featured a thin young model in a bikini alongside the question, “are you beach body ready?” Eventually, after over 70,000 people signed a petition asking for its removal, the posters stopped being featured around the city.
Now, a similar incident has awakened the citizens of Paris to the dangerous effects of degrading or sexualized portrayals of women. The advertisements that Yves Saint Laurent featured during Paris Fashion Week made waves as many began referring to them as “porno chic.” The most controversial image displays a seemingly underweight women positioned in a way that opens her legs up to the camera.
According to Ad Age, Stéphane Martin – the director of the Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (A.A.R.P. or Authority for Professional Regulation of Advertising) – called out the campaign for its failure to respect codes requiring “respect for decency, dignity and those prohibiting submission, violence or dependence, as well as the use of stereotypes.” He also commented on how the normalization of these photos is threatening to women:
These images, because of the postures of the women, presented as offered to the passers-by, present the woman as an object and suggest an idea of sexual submission. They trivialize sexist stereotypes and are in this sense likely to shock the public sensibility.
After receiving numerous complains from citizens, the A.A.R.P. asked for the immediate removal of these ads. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the organization has had to ask this of Yves Saint Laurent. In 2002, a perfume advertisement featuring a fully naked male model was denounced for being obscene. Over a decade later in 2015, the United Kingdom banned a Saint Laurent ad that used an “ultra-thin model.”
Mayor Hidalgo has voiced that she does not have any more patience left for these repeated offenses, and she told France’s The Local that her move to ban discriminatory outdoor ads is “an important measure in bringing to a public space the daily fight against stereotypes and against violence towards women.” New York Magazine reported that the new contract with the outdoor-advertising company JCDecaux “bans any ads featuring sexist, homophobic, degrading, discriminatory, and ageist images.”
— Yves Saint Laurent (@YSL) February 10, 2017
Regardless, these photos currently remain on Yves Saint Laurent’s social media pages, most prominently displayed on their official Twitter account.