- Words Yazzi Gokcemen
This week, the UK Advertising Standards Authority deemed a Calvin Klein advert starring FKA twigs 'inappropriate' - the subsequent ban reveals age-old double standards.
Calvin Klein has been firing up a cold, calm and dry January with heat. Until yesterday, you’d be right to assume this was a reference to the label’s recent steamy shoot with Jeremy Allen White of The Bear for its SS24 campaign. Regretfully, the source of the latest heat is frustration, ignited by the UK Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) decision to ban a Calvin Klein advert starring FKA twigs.
Why is the internet outraged? For many reasons which go beyond the fact that it’s 2024 and women – of consensual age and independent mind – should not be censored for showing some skin. By now most will have seen the advert in question. To break it down, the poster (first unveiled last April when she was made a new face of Calvin Klein) shows FKA twigs with a CK shirt draped halfway across her body. She is poised, like the dancer that she is, in a powerful stance which bares her side physique. A little side-boob is visible, as well as a bare leg and, as the ASA put it, “the side of her buttocks” – about as much ‘buttock’ as today’s popular bikini styles expose.
The ASA began investigating the fashion ad after receiving two complaints, concluding that it is indeed inappropriate and likely to cause “serious offence”. Social media discourse suggests the regulatory body’s decision has caused a bigger offence, against feminists, women of colour and the creatives involved in the campaign.
Stating that the image portrays FKA twigs as a “stereotypical sexual object” is demeaning – it casts a wildly talented, self-assured, powerhouse female artist as someone who is either naïve or performing for the male gaze. Of course, twigs has stood up to the ASA’s counterproductive claims. Posting the banned campaign on her Instagram, she wrote: “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.”
Addressing all those who admire her, FKA twigs points out the double standards at play. This isn’t about whether we find such images ‘empowering’ (that’s a debate about post-feminism for another day) but a question of representation and the ASA’s hypocritical definition of ‘public interest’.
Jeremy Allen White’s recent CK campaign is overtly, and stereotypically, sexy but, ogle all we like, the actor is not being named an object. Even harder to swallow are the double standards which appear racially split. Kendall Jenner featured in the same campaign as FKA twigs, and shots of the supermodel lying down – topless in one image, peeling down her jeans in another – were investigated by ASA but deemed acceptable. No shade to Kendall, but if authorities are being bureaucratic about stereotypical sexual ‘suggestiveness’, her posters present a clearer example.
Like the incredible Black female artists cited in her Instagram post, twigs is an icon and inspirational figure of our generation. The multi-award-winning songwriter knows what it means to be degraded and assaulted by patriarchal power – she was subjected to every kind of abuse in a former relationship with Shia LaBeouf. FKA twigs has also experienced feeling disillusioned by her own body, as one among many women who suffered from Fibroids before undergoing intrusive surgery to remove them. The artist has always courageously spoken out about such experiences, holding wrongdoers to account and sharing valuable wise words that women can resonate with.
The Calvin Klein poster brought to my mind the 36-year-old artist’s awe-inspiring pole dancing prowess, showcased in the music video which landed her a Grammy for the 2019 track ‘Cellophane’. It’s a craft twigs credits for bringing about a healthy relationship to her body, which was especially significant post-surgery. Speaking to Vogue in 2022 the singer said, “It really changed my life… focused me on what my body can do for me rather than focusing on the tiny thing on my waist that I don’t like or whatever”.
It’s hard to argue that many were shocked to see partial nudity in a Calvin Klein campaign – we’re acclimatised to it. The ASA made the case that since twigs’ poster advertises a shirt, not lingerie, nakedness is inappropriate. Considering Calvin Klein is best known as an underwear label and famously promotes sex-positive advertising, this argument feels weak.
In the past, certain Calvin Klein campaigns have been rightly called into question. A 1980 commercial featured 15-year-old Brooke Shields saying the infamous line, ‘You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.’ This was an irresponsible creative decision but Brooke Shields – then a teenager with a dream to have an acting career – should never have suffered the consequences of public outrage. Whatever one’s opinion of Calvin Klein’s FKA twigs advert, there’s no justification for shaming a woman and her body.
Calvin Klein responded to this week’s ad ban with a statement which highlighted twigs’ involvement in the image-making process. The artist confirmed the brand’s empowerment agenda in yesterday’s post, “thank you to ck and mert and marcus who gave me a space to express myself exactly how i wanted to – i will not have my narrative changed”. Women and fans have spiritedly come to the defence of the British artist in the comment section.
To me, this photograph of FKA twigs shows a woman with a strong sense of self-worth. It brings to mind the incredible achievements, resilience and strength of a multi-talented British female artist. On that note, whilst we continue to show support, we’re more excited to see what’s next in FKA twigs’ soaring music career.