Online fashion retailer censured by ads watchdog for sexually objectifying women

PrettyLittleThing's Umar Kamani with ambassadors Stassie, Kylie Jenner and Jordyn Woods

Manchester online fashion retailer, Prettylittlething.com, has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for an ad that was claimed to sexually objectify women.

The advert featured a product listing for a pair of jeans, seen on www.prettylittlething.com in April 2022, which had an image of a woman wearing the jeans, with the front unzipped showing the top of the woman’s underwear. The woman was wearing nothing on her top and her hands were crossed over her chest to cover her breasts.

A second photo on the listing showed an image of the same woman wearing the jeans zipped up, but the photo had cut off her head and shoulders. She wore nothing on her top and her right hand was placed across her chest to cover her breasts.

The ASA received a complainant, claiming the ad sexually objectified women, and challenged whether it was offensive and irresponsible.

In response, Prettylittlething said it strives to use inclusive, body positive imagery and communication. It said it took body positivity and freedom of expression very seriously and aimed to empower its customers to increase their self-esteem.

It explained that ads for women’s jeans had historically included images of models with nothing on their top and they had been widely accepted as tasteful and inoffensive.

The company, headed by Umar Kamani, said that its models and the way it shot its clothing embraced the diversity of women in society and its customer base, while also supporting empowerment and freedom of expression. Therefore, it considered that the images in the product listing conformed with this approach and in doing so, prevailing standards, rather than objectifying women.

It said while it did not believe the image objectified women it appreciated the importance of the issue raised and, therefore, had agreed to remove the images from the website.

The ASA upheld the complaint, while acknowledging that Prettylittlething had agreed to remove the images.

It said: “We noted that the first image showed the model with no top on, and her arms crossed to cover her breasts. We considered that the model was portrayed as confident and in a neutral pose. However, she was completely topless which was not relevant to the product being advertised and caused viewers to focus on the woman’s breasts.

“We considered that the ad was likely to have the effect of objectifying the woman by using her physical features to draw attention to the jeans in a way that was not pertinent to the product.

“We noted that in the second image the woman was also shown with no top on, and one arm covered her partially exposed breasts. Again, because she was topless it caused the viewer’s attention to be drawn to her bare chest, which was unnecessary in an ad for jeans.

“Further to that, the photo of the woman was cut just below her shoulders, thereby displaying her exposed top, but not her face. The headless image, in conjunction with her bare torso, removed the woman’s individuality and objectified her. For those reasons, we concluded that the images objectified the woman. They were, therefore, irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.”

The watchdog added: “We told Prettylittlething.com Ltd to ensure that future ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and that they did not cause serious or widespread offence by objectifying women.”

Prettylittlething faced similar accusations in February 2020, over another advert in which the ASA said “products had been presented in an overly-sexualised way that invited viewers to view the women as sexual objects”.

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