FKA twigs’ Calvin Klein advert being banned is layered in misogyny, racism and double standards—here's why

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FKA twigs’ Calvin Klein advert being banned is layered in misogyny, racism and double standards—here's why

 FKA twigs’ Calvin Klein advert being banned is layered in misogyny, racism and double standards—here's why

FKA twigs’ Calvin Klein advert being banned is layered in misogyny, racism and double standards—here's why© Getty Images

Calvin Klein’s advertising history has been messy, provocative and iconic. For decades the brand has courted controversy and contributed both to toxic beauty standards and the protesting of them. Their images have inspired the grossly fatphobic ‘90s era of ‘heroin chic’, been accused of glamorising child pornography, and toed the line when it comes to the objectification of people (namely women) to sell products. In 2019, they underwent a serious rebrand—when they featured plus-size models like Chika and Beth Ditto. In 2023, they featured Bappie Kortram, a transgender man in one of their bras. 

Generally, Calvin Klein campaigns have become more inclusive and positive—whether the brand’s intentions are pure or not, is another question. However, in this week’s latest saga, I believe the brand is absolutely on the right side of history. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as they often do, have taken the crown as backwards-baddies of the day! 

Today, FKA twigs powerfully called out the “double standards” of her Calvin Klein underwear advert being banned in the UK by the ASA. The board revealed it had received only two complaints that the images of twigs from the April 2023 campaign were “overly sexualised”, deeming them offensive and irresponsible because they "objectified women and were inappropriately displayed". They did not ban Calvin Klein’s posters featuring model Kendall Jenner, which were part of the same advert, despite her also being topless and angling her crotch towards the camera. 

In my opinion, the situation is layered in misogyny, racism and double standards. Taking to Instagram, she said: “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."

The ASA statement read: “The ad used nudity and centred on FKA twigs’ physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object, the image’s composition placed viewers’ focus on the model’s body rather than on the clothing being advertised”. 

In the full letter, there are some lines that stick out as, I believe, extremely hypocritical and nonsensical, such as: “Her nudity and facial expression, including a direct gaze and open mouth, gave the image an overall sexual overture.” 

In my opinion, Jenner’s image is posed in a very similar same way and is objectively more sexualised. It is extremely problematic that a Black woman’s sexuality would be policed and criticised, while—in the same campaign, no less—the White woman’s is not. 

Calvin Klein has defended the FKA twigs advert, saying: “The images were not vulgar and were of two confident and empowered women who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand, and the ads contained a progressive and enlightened message.” The brand continued to say that the poses adopted by both her and Jenner were “natural and neutral”. It’s a solid response from the brand, albeit slightly missing the point—it is precisely the fact that FKA twigs is empowered and confident that has likely caused the complaints in the first place. This is not a world that responds positively to such traits.

This decision from the ASA comes just after Jeremy Allen White’s Calvin Klein advert went earth-shatteringly viral—creating $12.7 million in media exposure during its first 48 hours live, according to WWD. Allen White’s advert is just as—if not more—sexual than twigs’. He has, so far, been overwhelmingly praised. I am not holding my breath for the ASA to release a similar statement on him being a ‘sexual object’.

The decision from the ASA shows just how impossible it is for women to 'win'. In one action we are objectified, commodified, liberated or empowered, all depending on who you ask. In this ruling the ASA is taking away a woman’s autonomy—doing the sexualising and objectifying it claims to be ruling against. 

FKA twigs said it best in her Instagram post: “in light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, i can’t help but feel there are some double standards here. so to be clear…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. 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.” [sic] 

Opinion by Chloe Laws: Marie Claire UK

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