The controversial advertisement you see above is from Mexx Kids’ 2011 international marketing campaign. If you are not familiar with Mexx, they are an international company that originated in Amsterdam and specializes in fashion and accessories for men, women, and children (Mexx). When I first discovered this image I was not necessarily excited to write a blog post about it due to its distasteful and inappropriate subject matter. On initial glance, the image provoked the feeling of discomfort, which led me to come to the conclusion that things that make me uncomfortable need to be discussed. Mexx’s advertisement not only sexualizes young children, which is the greatest issue I have with this image, but it also brings to light the problems associated with gender polarization, and is devoid of racial diversity.
The sexualisation of individuals occurs in many forms such as holding someone to a standard based on physical attractiveness, or in the case of the Mexx Kids advertisement, inappropriately imposing sexuality upon an individual (Aulette and Wittner 409). This imposition is blatantly obvious due to the fact that the four children are completely topless. Considering that this is a clothing advertisement, it is strange to see that none of the children are wearing shirts, and the jeans that they are wearing are not even shown at full length. The reason why this is such an issue is because children are now being involved in the “sex sells” marketing scheme that was initially dominated by and reserved for adults. “Sex sells” (Aulette and Wittner 126) is a saying used in the advertisement business in order to promote and sell products, even if these products have no relation to sex whatsoever. This tactic is well used by companies such as American Apparel, but has even been adopted by food restaurants such as Burger King. Usually this is done by over sexualizing women and putting them in vulnerable poses to sell products (Killbourne), while sexualized men advertise products by asserting their dominance. In this case, children in the age range of 8-10 are being used to do the same thing. Nudity in the media can also be used as a sign of sexual availability and this is not the type of message that children should be sending out to other children and adults. Another issue with sexualising children involves the fact that we live in a time where pedophilia and pornography are on the rise. In the hands of a pedophile, this image could be considered child pornography, yet because it is branded with a “Mexx” logo it is considered acceptable advertising. This advertisement makes it seem ok to view children in a sexually suggestive way, when it really is not.
Even though all of these children are half naked, the one positive thing this advertisement does is promote equality of the sexes in terms of bodies. By choosing to show both the girls and the boys topless, Mexx Kids is able to show that above the waist, there really is not much difference between the anatomy of boys and girls, especially at a young age. Therefore, there is no reason to treat boys and girls differently. With this said I found it interesting to discover that amongst the people that also find this advertisement inappropriate, some show more concern for the girls rather than the boys even though they are all photographed topless. While researching I came across a blog covering this topic in which the author writes “No parent should be okay with their 8 year-old daughter being seen topless by the whole world. And how is that child going to feel when she’s older, having been exposed like this?” (Sarah Henke Design). In response to this, should a parent feel okay with their 8 year-old son being seen topless by the whole world? This quote not only portrays androcentric ideas, it also shows the issues associated with gender polarization. Androcentricism refers to making the males the norm, while everything deviating from this standard, such as women, appear to be less than human or the “other” (Aulette and Wittner 67). As a culture we somehow agreed on the rule that topless men are normal, but topless women are not. Next, gender polarization refers to the idea that emotions, items, social positions, and ideas are either male or female (Aulette and Wittner 67). How easily we forget that boys and men are also susceptible to many of the circumstances that girls and women face, such as eating disorders and rape, and they should also have their feelings accounted for especially in situations such as this Mexx Kids advertisement.
Transitioning back into what this advertisement does wrong, we can see that hegemonic masculinity is being promoted to children. This idea is evident in the way in which the girls are positioned in comparison to the boys. Both girls in the photo are standing slightly in the background while the boys, are dominantly placed in the foreground. The girls also seem to be physically much closer to the blonde boy in the centre, and one girl even has her hand placed on his shoulder. This suggests that the most dominant male is seen as more attractive to females, considering the other boy is seen slightly distanced from the rest of the group. Although all of the children are looking in the same direction, the expressions on the faces of the boys are very stern and powerful, making them look tough, while the expressions of the girls are more vulnerable. Aside from sex and gender, race is also involved in this advertisement. May I remind you that this is an international campaign and therefore should probably include some racial diversity. “Fashion is a site of power which should not be dismissed; by ignoring it, one also ignores “…the centrality of gender, [race,] sexuality and desire to their meaning and use” (Niessen & Brydon, 1998, p. xiii/ lecture 8). This quote calls attention to the influence of the fashion industry on many aspects of the way we perceive ourselves. The “power” in this case is in the hands of white individuals who dominate the fashion industry, and therefore set the standard for beauty for everyone else. It is important that fashion advertisements, especially those for children are racially inclusive so that all races are equally able to see themselves represented, and are not forced to believe that there is one race that they must aspire to be like in order to be beautiful.
All in all, I hope that other clothing companies do not follow in the footsteps of Mexx when advertising for children, because there is no reason why children should be selling products with their exposed bodies, unless they are babies in a Huggies diaper commercial or something.
Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Second ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Design Henke, Sarah, “Offensive Ads from Mexx Kids.” Blog. Sarah Henke Design, My personal hoard of design inspiration and news. WordPress, 18 Oct. 2012. 18 April. 2014. <http://henkedesign.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/offensive-ads-from-mexx-kids/>
“It started with a kiss.” Mexx. Mexx, n.d. Web. 18 April. 2014 <http://www.mexx.com/en/were-mexx/history>
Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’sJean Image of Women. By Jean Killbourne. Cambridge Documentaries, 2010. Documentary.
Tolmie, Jane, and Erika Ibrahim. “Cultural Appropriation.” Gender Studies Lecture 8. BioSci Complex, Kingston. 3 Mar. 2014. Lecture.
Niessen & Brydon, 1998, p. xiii (lecture 8)