Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, has come out strongly against such sexualized images in pop culture and marketing, where they are held up as role models:
A lot of people seem to think that it's cool to be a pimp or whore. It's not cool. The reality is dark, evil and appalling and unregulated. The reality is sex trafficking, which is about young women being forced into rooms to have sex however many times a day so that the pimp can take all the money.
There are thousands of ads, mostly focused on women and young girls, that say you are not attractive, you are not sexy, you are not intelligent, unless you look like this. In kids' magazines there is a passivity and a stupidity that is seen as a great way forward. Something has gone very wrong.
The Ypulse blog, which tracks youth trends, calls this phenomenon "pornification." Sexuality has been an element in marketing from the era of the Gibson Girl of the early 1900's. But critics of today's imagery suggest that there's a difference between sexuality (which can be coy, discreet and fun) and raw, in-your-face sex (which can be scary and brutal), with the latter all too short a distance from actual pornography. And not the Playboy variety, either.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue!
As the contrast between the images of the past 100 years shows, the history of sex in advertising (and the media in general) is that of greater tolerance and permissiveness, taking twists and turns in response to the zeitgeist of the moment. In fact, some have suggested that the current infatuation with pimp culture is a direct backlash against feminism.
Are the current fashions simply a continuation of this trend, and the controversy something we'll look back on with bemusement in a few years? Is Anita Roddick's criticism of pornification a voice in the wilderness, or the start of a genuine rebellion? Attitudes, after all, are flexible, as reactions against behaviors such as smoking and drug abuse prove (remember the "heroin chic" of the '90s?). Regardless of whether pimp chic is a passing fad or the shape of things to come, it is having an undeniable effect on the young people who are embracing it.