The representation of women’s bodies remains hugely conflicted. We’re constantly bombarded by unrealistic, often sexualised images, particularly within advertising. London-based brand Heist Studios is looking to offer women something different with its own campaign, which uses a dancer to model its tights. But after investing in advertising space across the London underground network, Heist was told by Transport for London (TfL) that, if the images were to appear, they would need to be altered to include a bandeau top on the dancer, as the sight of her bare back proved to be “overtly sexual”.
The image shows a woman with a strong physique wearing a pair of black tights with her back towards the camera. The only nudity in the picture is her bare back, to which TfL referred as the “offending area”. “We’re feeling pretty indignant about this,” said Ellie Howard, head of community at Heist Studios. “We need to challenge the status quo when it comes to how women are depicted in advertising. We were super excited to share our positive image of a strong dancer, leaping through the air in our tights, and we chose to shoot our product in this way precisely because we want to present women’s bodies in an empowering way.”
The move by TfL seems particularly hypocritical when you consider previous adverts that have appeared in London’s stations. Protein World’s giant billboards, showing a woman in a bikini alongside the slogan “Are you beach body ready?”, is just one example of the ways in which women are objectified as a means of making other women feel bad about their own body image.
Are images of women in seductive poses and clothes screened out? Often not. How can we provide an alternative view of women’s bodies if we’re effectively banned from showing it?
“We use dancing and movement in our imagery precisely because we are trying to challenge the way that women are sexualised in underwear adverts, yet it seems that the back of a female dancer is unacceptable,” says Howard. “Are images of topless male models banned? No. Are images of women in seductive poses and clothes screened out? Often not. How can we provide an alternative view of women’s bodies if we’re effectively banned from showing it?”
According to emails revealed by the Evening Standard, Exterion Media, which holds the advertising contract for the Tube, said that one of TfL’s stipulations is that they “cannot run topless models on the Underground… whilst I know this is only showing a bare back, it still depicts a topless model. If we could add a boob tube around the back I think this would be passed.”
A spokesperson for TfL said: “We were not sent the advert which is being referred to. Every advertisement is reviewed by our agents against our advertising policy to make sure it is compliant.”
TFL has faced a lot of criticism in recent years for its tolerance of advertising that has been seen to support outdated, sexist tropes. One such advertisement was for a beauty app USPAAH, featuring a picture of a man with a mock-sad expression alongside the words: “Keep her sweet with a spa mani/pedi at home.”
Another, for estate agents Marsh & Parsons, depicted an older man with a younger woman, with the tagline: “A charming period property with a modern extension.” Until the double standards are addressed, it seems we’ll have to enjoy Heist’s advertisements with boob tube intact.