Pantytime: Anything but a Fun Time
by chocolate12345 on February 24, 2017 - 4:19pm
American Apparel is a clothing company known for its scandalous and provocative advertisements featuring young, mostly female, scantily clad models. Several of its advertisements have been criticized for their vulgarity and the negative implicit messages they transmit. One particular advertisement for underwear released in 2006 features a rear view of a woman kneeling on a bed in her underwear and knee-high socks. The main focus of the picture is the woman’s bottom, as it occupies most of the visual space and appears to be under a spotlight in comparison with the much darker bed and background. The bottom end of the woman’s lower back and a small region of her thighs and calves are also visible in the extremities of the picture. The element of the picture that stands out the most, however, is a hand that comes out of the bottom of the picture and pulls down on the woman’s underwear, revealing a significant area of her naked bottom. This advertisement undoubtedly succeeds in discomfiting and shocking the viewer with such a harsh and direct display of nudity. Furthermore, in its vulgarity are embedded problematic implicit messages about gender roles, the portrayal of women, and sexuality.
By focusing only on the woman’s bottom and not showing her head or face, which would humanize her, this advertisement objectifies the woman. Her whole value is in her bottom and that is the only part of her worthy of the viewer’s and of her partner’s attention. Although the picture is supposedly advertising underwear, the product is barely shown in order to showcase the woman’s bottom. Additionally, the hand pulling on the underwear seems to be acting of its own accord since the woman’s back is turned to it. She is not in a position of control over the hand, the situation or her body. Being an object, her desires and opinions are not relevant: “the sexual objectification of women requires that they remain silent [...] the feminine counterpart is disregarded or devalued” (Cortese 58). The hand is exposing the woman’s buttocks for its owner’s own pleasure, and the woman’s body is present only to satisfy the hand’s owner’s wishes. Constant exposure to the objectification of women in the media leads women to self-objectify (Cortese 61), which is highly detrimental since “self-objectification is hypothesized to be related to increased risk of psychological problems, including eating disorders, bipolar depression, and sexual dysfunction” (Cortese 61).
The lack of visible control and consent from the woman’s side brings connotations of sexual abuse to the picture. The viewer receives the message that their underwear is meant to be taken off by someone else to perform acts that will please others. Furthermore, the title of the advertisement, Pantytime, adds a playful, flirtatious, and light-hearted tone to the situation depicted in the advertisement. It suggests that the act of undressing someone else without their consent and the objectification of the woman are to be taken lightly and a fun way to be intimate. According to Cortese, “ads are trying to show us that fighting is playful and that intimidation have become stimulating forerunners to intimate socializing and sex” (Cortese 85). This is dangerous because it normalizes and desensitizes the viewer to sexual violence.
It is unclear whether the hand pulling on the underwear belongs to a man or a woman, but both cases produce a similar result. If it is a man’s hand, the advertisement reinforces the gender roles of the man as a subject who satisfies his own desires while the woman is objectified. With her back turned to him, the woman has no choice but to blindly entrust her body in his power. If the hand belongs to a woman, the advertisement exploits lesbianism as a sexual appeal for men in order to sell the product. In both cases, the advertisement complies with the notion of “male gaze”: it is depicted from the masculine point of view, in which women’s role is to please men.
In order to eliminate the negative messages this “Pantytime” American Apparel advertisement transmits, the picture could display the woman’s full body, including her head, in order to humanize her and giver her value beyond her bottom. The hand pulling on her underwear could be removed and the woman turned towards the camera so that her face is visible and that her bottom is not the sole focus of the picture. Through these modifications, the advertisement would still promote the underwear, but the woman would retain her integrity and control over her body.
Anthony Cortese, “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising,” in Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, Third Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008): 57-89.
Nico, Amarca. “20 Controversial Ads That Defined American Apparel (NSFW).” Highsnobiety, Titel Media GMBH, 7 Oct. 2015. http://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/10/07/american-apparel-ads/. Accessed Feb. 23 2017.