Today in news that will make you Google “rooms for rent most remote habitable places on earth”: the council for the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority—an organisation overseen by this (impressively diverse!) executive team—has taken it upon themselves to ban FKA Twigs’s recent Calvin Klein ad, thereby unequivocally ensuring its viral proliferation across the internet.
In response to complaints, this band of merry mad men determined that the Mert + Marcus shot presented Twigs as “a stereotypical sexual object”, calling the image “likely to cause serious offence”, while deciding that two photos of Kendall Jenner from the same campaign were “unlikely to be seen as irresponsible”.
Naturally, the 32 people left on Twitter—which I categorically refuse to call X—had some thoughts. (Chief executive Guy Parker’s bio describes him as “responsible for executing the ASA’s strategy to have More Impact Online”, which… mission accomplished?)
You can find the regulatory body’s full ruling here, which reads a little like it was written by the council in The Scarlet Letter with additional input from Andrew Tate. Take the line: “Her nudity and facial expression, including a direct gaze and open mouth, gave the image an overall sexual overture.” Note that there were seemingly no complaints about the images depicting the campaign’s male stars, Michael B Jordan and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who can apparently make eye contact and part their lips with impunity, those lucky devils.
There isn’t enough Red Bull in the world to give me the energy to reiterate all of the reasons why it’s so problematic that a Black woman consciously choosing to strike a powerful pose in an ad campaign would be deemed “likely to cause serious offence”, while Kendall Jenner is apparently just a nice white lady with her crotch in the air, nor do I have the strength to hammer home the fact that policing female sexuality in this way should have gone out of fashion around the same time as the bustle.
Mercifully, then, Twigs summed things up in a note-perfect response to the controversy on Instagram: “I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labelled me. I see a beautiful strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine. In light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here. I am proud of my physicality and hold the art I create with my vessel to the standards of women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones who broke down barriers of what it looks like to be empowered and harness a unique embodied sensuality.”
For its part, Calvin Klein has released a statement defending the poses in all three of the images as “natural and neutral”: “The images were not vulgar and were of two confident and empowered women who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand.” It’s a good response, of course, but it also misses the point: confident and empowered women is exactly the sort of thing that still gets certain members of the British public’s (imitation Calvin Klein) Y-fronts in a twist.