Ad Standards dismisses Honey Birdette complaints in contradictory ad ruling

Not sexually suggestive, but is sexually suggestive. Just two women posing in their underwear, but also two women in sexy lingerie expressing their sexuality.  

Ad Standards has dismissed complaints against a Honey Birdette ad which featured two women in red lingerie sitting at a bar with one of the women sucking on an olive. 

Text from the Ad Standards Panel case report:

The Panel considered that the image references sexual matters by being a store for sexy lingerie and that the image of two women posed in a manner that suggest they are showing off the sexy lingerie is a depiction of the women expressing their sexuality.


The Panel then considered whether the advertisement treated the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience.

The Panel considered that the depiction of the woman wearing this style of lingerie was relevant to the product being promoted.

The Panel noted that the requirement to consider whether sexual suggestion is ‘sensitive to the relevant audience’ is a concept requiring them to consider who the relevant audience is and to have an understanding of how they might react to or feel about the advertisement – the concept of how subtle sexual suggestions is or might be is relevant to the Panel considering how children, and other sections of the community, might consider the advertisement.

The Panel noted that this image appears in store windows and considered that the relevant audience includes retail workers, people shopping in the Honey Birdette store and people who are not shopping at Honey Birdette but who are walking past the store, and that this last group would include children.

The Panel considered that while the style of the lingerie is sexualised, the women’s poses are relaxed and not inherently sexually suggestive. 

The Panel acknowledged that the sexualised nature of the product itself may not be considered appropriate by people shopping in the centre, especially those with young children, however in this instance the Panel considered that there was no sexual messaging or themes in the advertisement which would make it confronting for these audiences.

The Panel considered that young children would be unlikely to view this advertisement as sexually suggestive, and the most likely interpretation by this audience would be two women posing in their underwear. 

The Panel considered that the advertisement was sexually suggestive, but not highly sexually suggestive and that the advertisement did treat the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience.

(Bold ours) Read full Ad Standards Panel case report

What does this mean?

Ad standards states the advertisement is an image of women in sexy lingerie who are expressing their sexuality. Because the women expressing their sexuality in sexy lingerie are in a relaxed pose, this is somehow "not sexually suggestive.” 

"Not sexually suggestive?" The women are posed in "sexy lingerie" at a bar, "expressing their sexuality." Is the bar a strip club? 

No consideration is given to the phallic symbolism of having one of the women posed with an olive in her mouth. 

The relevant audience is said to be retail workers, people shopping in the Honey Birdette store and people who are not shopping at Honey Birdette but who are walking past the store, and this last group includes children.

A few paragraphs after asserting that the ad wasn't sexually suggestive, Ad Standards then claims the ad is “sexually suggestive but not highly sexually suggestive.”

This means, according to ad standards, the ad featuring women in “sexy lingerie” who are “expressing their sexuality” at a bar, is now “sexually suggestive but not highly sexually suggestive.”

Then, without offering any evidence whatsoever, Ad Standards asserts that children would not view the ad as sexually suggestive and would instead view the ad as “two women posing in their underwear.”

The impact of forcing others to view these sexualised, sexually objectifying images of women was given no consideration.

Since Ad Standards judges each ad in isolation from other advertising, no consideration is given to the cumulative impact of sexually objectifying advertising in our culture.  

Here are the facts

Sexual objectification harms women

"Sexually objectifying portrayals of women are a frequent occurrence in mainstream media, raising questions about the potential impact of exposure to this content on others’ impressions of women and on women’s views of themselves. The findings provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity."

The goal of this review was to synthesize empirical investigations testing effects of media sexualization. The focus was on research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015. A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed.

Sexualised ads are harming kids

The routine sexualisation and objectification of women has very serious consequences on young people. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows there is a rise in anxiety among young girls with images of women being portrayed as sexualised objects a contributing factor.

Another study examined self-objectification, body image disturbance, and eating disorder symptoms in young Australian children.

"Results from over 250 boys and girls aged 6–11 years revealed that young girls report levels of self-objectification that are similar to those observed among older girls and women. Self-objectification was also found to be meaningfully related to body image and eating disturbances in children. A significant proportion of children reported body dissatisfaction and a minority engaged in disordered eating behaviours in the four weeks prior to the assessment. These results suggest that children may be at risk of experiencing the negative psychological outcomes associated with self-objectification."

Independent ad regulation needed

Collective Shout has called for the restructuring of the current regulatory environment to bring the regulation of all media and marketing together under one encompassing independent federal regulator, including a division with the primary responsibility of protecting the interests of children and young people, addressing both the direct and indirect sexualisation of children in all media modes from a child-rights basis.

See: Submission to the Parliament of NSW Committee on Children and Young People Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people. 

Corporate Social Responsibility needed

If you think the big shopping centres like Westfield, Lendlease, Vicinity and others should stop ignoring children's and women's rights and take responsibility for the sexist, sexually objectifying advertising appearing in their centres, sign the petition today.

***STOP Honey Birdette using porn-style advertising in your family friendly shopping centres.***

[School holidays, a group of girls (approx 13 yrs old) observing the Honey Birdette sex shop at Westfield Chermside]

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