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Fashion Exploitation: the Female Form

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Fashion exploitation: The Female Form
Why is it in recent years the naked female body has been exploited to sell clothing and products, and ultimately being the face of a brand? Is it becoming too close to pornography or is it acceptable in this modern day?

In this dissertation I am going to explore the use of the naked female body and how it can be perceived as being ‘exploited’ in a pornographic way within the fashion world. Although the perception towards erotic and pornographic imagery in the media has changed drastically in the last 50 years since the sexual revolution, there are still different views on the use of it to sell and promote a product or brand. I will look into how Christianity sexualised the naked body, fetish influences to the fashion scene and how designers and fashion photographers have used the naked form. To begin with I will look into the definitions and meanings of some of the key terms in this dissertation such as pornography, erotica, nude and naked so I can relate the correct meanings to points in my argument.
‘Pornography is printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement’ (Oxford Dictionary) we could compare this to modern advertisements for certain brands. Some people may say fashion advertisement and clothing is getting close to pornography as an overstatement, but in fact when you compare it to the definition of pornography it may not even come close. As I’m sure the brand has not intended for its viewers to become aroused from their work. However the term pornification may be more relevant to my previous point as the growing use of iconic pornography has become stylish as it has been taken up in recent fashion trends and advertisement, ‘the increasing occurrence and acceptance of sexual themes and explicit imagery in popular or mainstream culture’ (Oxford Dictionary) Another term which some may use to describe recent fashion advertisements is erotic; ‘relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement’ (Oxford Dictionary) again this is similar to the term pornography, but really when you compare a nude women to the term, the company is not trying to directly arouse the viewer as would pornography, but the company is merely trying to create an erotic atmosphere.
To some less fashion informed audiences, advertisements and fashion trends are crossing boundaries with new approaches, such as involving pornography and nudity. These audiences in my opinion are those who are not very fashion conscious, as there has always been hints of nudity in past fashion magazines and fashion advertisements. It has mainly been in recent years where brands are really pushing the boundaries to a point where some of their advertisements cannot be published.
One example of a brand that has been unable to publish such advertisements is American Apparel and they have ‘regularly broken advertising rules for using exploitative images of young women’ (Mark Sweney, The brand found itself breaking UK advertising rules by ‘running a “voyeuristic” ad of a young model in Vice magazine that appeared to sexualise a child’. (Mark Sweney,
From looking at the image that was banned, I would not say they look childlike and the image used is typical photography and styling for the brand. To audiences who are unaware of the brand may find the image as wrong as the brand have ‘inappropriately sexualised a model who appeared to be a child therefore irresponsible’. (Mark Sweney, Even if the model was a child (18 years or younger) they and their parent no doubt would have known the type modelling they would be intended for, and would have had the parents consent. But some could argue that this could be encouraging paedophilia if the model was in fact underage. American Apparel insured that ‘the model was over the age of 18; the ad was not offensive of irresponsible’. Vice magazine said ‘there was nothing in the image to suggest anything overtly sexual or inappropriate was being portrayed’ and that ‘in the wider context of fashion and underwear advertising the image was tame and tasteful’. Again referring back to those who are not very fashion conscious, this advert was removed from a magazine as it broke certain rules. Rules which are made to control what images are published and those which cannot be published. But are these rules up to date? As nudity and erotica is becoming more popular in advertising should these rules be altered for our modern day viewing? Or are the people who made these rules unaware of the new trends?
Using mild pornography has become a popular way to advertise and sell a product. As a result of this current and building trend it is sexualizing and exploiting the female body. The naked body is now being used to sell a product whilst they engage in some form of seductive or sexual action or position within the advertisement; this is also evident for men too. Fashion is now more than just pieces of clothing, advertisements provide an ideal lifestyle to go with this clothing. But what lifestyle is an advertisement trying to sell if it is including almost pornographic imagery? This is why I think the female form is being exploited, the female body Is merely being used to sell a product and a lifestyle to consumers which they think the brand portrays. Just as women have worked their way up in society they are almost degrading themselves again as fashion advertisements are marketing their brand with erotic references, like bondage, nudity and submissiveness.
The first time in history that the nude body was represented in sexual context was in the time of Ancient Greece and Roman Empire. These were in images and statues showing both naked men and women, some were even of prostitutes and slaves. After the fall of the Roman Empire and with the arrival of Christianity, the representation of sex changed drastically. Sex became the moral problem, something dirty, sinful, obscene, hidden away and degrading. In the bible from the story of Adam and Eve it first says ‘the man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed’ it was only until after they ate the fruit it became wrong. ‘The naked is the raw human body, the human body without clothes’ (Clark in Nead,1992). The Christian definition of the human body should be separate, distinct and non materialistic. If clothing truly controlled lust and immoral sexual activity then these would not be occurring to any extent of which they are in this moment of time. Covering the body in clothing can be seen as the reason as to why the body has become sexualised. Another part of the bible again said by Adam suggests that being naked was wrong, ‘I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’ (Genesis 3: 10-11) Some say the bible can be interpreted as the reader likes, and depending on how strong the believer is, they will interpret the bible’s meaning, for example in many of these passages nudity is made either wrong, inappropriate or part of adultery.
As early as 1874 a photographer’s studio of nude shots was raided by police discovering around 130248 obscene photographs, this shows the extent of how unacceptable this sort of imagery was at the time. A naked picture ‘cannot all be sex’ (Dallett Fuguet, 1902), sex in these days was a private event but why should a nude photograph mean sex? Surely it is what you interpret it to be, and why should nudity be such a bad thing, we are all nude underneath the clothes we wear, and we are all aware of it. As soon as a camera was invented the nude subject became very popular; and this evoked a debate among the public and the press. ‘Now the presentation of the nude shows itself to us from quite a different point of view: it has nothing to do with sexual motives. It is confined no longer to the sum of humanity, to secret and lascivious eyes, to indecent photographs’ (Peter Landow, Nature And Culture – Women).
Designers are beginning to use an image which hardly reflects what they are trying to sell, and instead using an almost nude figure, they are merely relying on the viewer to recognise the designer logo or brand name. This in a way gives them some form of power as they know their viewers and customers will still continue to recognise and buy into their products and clothes. I think by using a nude body they are making viewers aware of their self image, as they have a desire to look like those in the advertisements, rather than just the thought of buying products from this brand. Fashion trends construct gender identities that reflect our sexual fantasies, for example fetish subcultures have provided designers with a rich source of material for several years.
Pornography is often associated with those of low moral stature and is seen as dirty, yet fashion on the other hand is seen as clean and respectable, as its intention is make people feel good and to look appealing when worn. But mixing the two together often causes controversy to others who are not aware of these trends.

Designers turn to minor trends for inspiration and fetish clothing is one of them.
Boundaries are being pushed in fashion, now allowing the public to wear more erotic and provocative clothing. Fetish clothing in the early 80’s and 90’s was very taboo and underground, and was never intended to be worn by the majority groups, but in recent years fetish clothing has wormed its way into mainstream fashion. Society was soon forced to open up to sexuality in the late 90’s, the media and the public had changed their attitude towards these kinds of influences. In current trends there has been a rise in the use of leather, buckles, pvc and underwear in many brands and fashion houses. But the increase of this trend along with advertisements becoming almost pornographic there almost is no line for fashion to cross anymore. I think not only have designers influenced what is available to buy on the high street within fetish fashion, but Idols such as Lady Gaga in the past few years and Christina Aguilera in early 2000’s made many people follow this trend at some point.
One recent trend that could have been seen to have had a fetish influence was ‘underwear as outerwear’. This trend included corsets, crop tops, bralets and various forms of stockings and holdups and became very popular, but to be worn in a visible manor rather than hidden underclothes like once before. Again this could be seen as exploiting the female form. Designers know that the trends they create will be followed by the fashion hungry followers and these people want to be thought of as fashionable, and if that means wearing visible underwear which was earlier seen as private, then they will do so.
If the use of fetish and nudity are continuously being over used then will they soon loose their power?

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