When it appeared in the London underground this frightening image offended feminist blogger Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.
She was not alone. The image so thoroughly offended many other radical feminists that they felt obliged to vandalize it.
Eventually, it was banned from the London subway. Another victory for feminism. Another defeat for capitalism… or better, another defeat for women.
When she first saw the ad Cosslett penned a screed for The Guardian:
It’s strange, coming back to a world of advertising when you’ve been away. I just visited Cuba, where there are no ads at all, unless you count the odd bit of graffiti proclaiming “Socialism or death”. On my return, descending into the dark, putrid bowels of London’s underground system was quite a shock. I hadn’t realised quite how much my field of vision is occupied without my consent by images and messages that want to sell me stuff (and, being a woman, it’s usually based on claims that it will make me look better). The sheer volume of it is alarming; one advert, for a makeup brand, showing a spread-eagled woman, was repeated six or seven times, just in case the initial message (lipstick, I think) hadn’t got through.
Compared to the Worker’s Paradise of Cuba, London looks to Cosslett like Sodom and Gomorrah. Worse yet, she feels violated by images of beauteous women? Huh?
Cosslett wants to be recognized for her mind, not her body. We would all be happy to do so. But, a great mind should consider that the reason for the absence of advertising in Cuba is: there is nothing to sell.
Communist regimes have notably refused to allow women to choose how to dress or make themselves up. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution all women were reduced to wearing overalls and baggy jackets. Presumably, the directive came down from Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing.
If one were in a churlish mood one would note that Jiang Qing was no beauty herself. She must have felt threatened by visions of feminine beauty, so she banned them.
In the West Naomi Wolf famously repudiated the beauty myth in a bestselling book and Betty Friedan attacked the feminine mystique in a better selling book.
If her model is Cubsa, Cosslett does not want women to exercise a free choice about how they appear in public, even on the beach. She does not want them to study various looks in order to put together their own, freely.
While some women clearly prefer not to be ogled on the beach, some do. Those who wish to attract male attention dress accordingly. Those who do not also dress accordingly.
In Cuba, like Maoist China, no one exercises a free choice.
Cosslett understands this and immediately walks back the implications of her initial remark:
Now, I’m not saying I want “Socialism or death”. It’s hard to get cheese on toast in Cuba, not to mention freedom of speech, but a visual field that is occasionally unfettered by commercialised sexism is not too much to ask. Save for the odd forehead cock, the politically motivated defacement of advertising is not as fashionable as it once was.
Women who want to look good and who do what they can to look attractive are therefore dupes of the patriarchy. If women did not like the ads, there would be no ads. If women did not respond to the ads there would be no ads.
Thus, the fault cannot merely lie with the capitalist pig advertisers. It must also lie with the women who frequent Sephora, who study fashion magazines and who spend their money on designer clothing.
Cosslett is offended that her delicate sensibility to being constantly assaulted by images of comely women. For some reason, she believes that these beach bodies and other versions of feminine pulchritude are trying to make her feel bad about the way she looks.
How did it happen that today’s liberated women are so self-conscious about their bodies? Could it be that they do not especially like being women? Could it be that, having classed women among the most oppressed classes in the history of humankind, feminists do not much like being female. And they hate themselves for being feminine.
And yet, on the other side, when women prefer to be just like men, to have the life plan and careers of men, they might also suffer from an anguish that men will not see them as women. How do they go about making sure that men do not mistake them for men? By overexposing themselves.
Call it the internal contradiction of second-wave feminism.
Cosslett is offended and she called for the the ads to be banned. She wants women and especially radical feminists to resist:
Ultimately, brands such as these will continue their sexist advertising tactics for as long as we let them. Let’s not let them. Consider this a call for resistance.
And remember: the only thing you need in order to be beach ready, to bask in the glorious sunshine and to swim in the wild saltiness of a seemingly endless sea, is that marvellous vessel of yours. It belongs to you and you only.
Is she suggesting that women dispense with swimwear and walk around naked on the beach? Hmmm. Does a woman make a body her own when she rejects all adornment and ornamentation? Huh?
Isn't the purpose of fashion to allow women to look their best, regardless of the condition of their "marvelous vessel?"
Lizzy Crocker penned a response to Cosslett and to the radical feminists who were defacing the ads in the London underground:
Perhaps women have a bigger problem on our hands than sexist advertisements: We are obsessed with body image, and instead of taking any ownership or responsibility for our body-image anxieties, we blame society. We blame the patriarchy. We blame advertising agencies for shaming us with images of slim-waisted, busty models in their bikinis.
Indeed, feminists are obsessed by the patriarchy’s policing of body image, but they do the same when trying to prove a point.
Somerfield’s toned but voluptuous body may seem ideal to some, but it shouldn’t be a source of shame to those who didn’t win the genetic lottery. If it is, we should stop blaming society and reassess our personal relationships with body image.