Why the ASA got it wrong about Rogue perfume

It’s no secret that Rihanna is known for being raunchy and provocative, whether it be through her lyrics, music videos or style choices.

It’s no secret that Rihanna is known for being raunchy and provocative, whether it be through her lyrics, music videos or style choices. The explicitly revealing sheer dress she wore to the recent CFDA fashion awards shows the singer is fully aware of this, and seeks to celebrate and embrace her reputation, whilst her phenomenal worldwide success suggests we love her for it too.

However, we are currently faced with a controversial undercurrent surrounding the depiction and promotion of sexuality in the media, and this debate has been brought to the surface, with Rihanna at its focus, as the Advertising Standards Authority recently decided to place restrictions on the advertisement of her latest perfume Rogue.

The advert, a poster in which the singer is pictured wearing only heels and underwear, sat with her legs lifted and resting on a bottle of the perfume, first came under criticism following a complaint that deemed the image to be overly sexual and demeaning to women.

It is this comment in particular, judging the advert as degrading and disrespectful to women, which seems to raise the most questions and controversy.

Conflicting ideas

It sparks that somewhat paradoxical element of the debate surrounding the portrayal of women in the media: women are encouraged to celebrate their bodies and sexuality, yet doing so is often seen as contributing to a culture where women are seen to be objectified. The person who voiced the complaint seems to argue that the poster subjects Rihanna to becoming an object of sexual desire, thus establishing a negative portrayal regarding the position and role of women.

But, couldn’t it equally be suggested that Rihanna is a role model of the feminist movement, encouraging women to not be ashamed of their bodies or engagement in sexual activity, thus opposing the historical culture that shames women for showing skin and enjoying sexual freedom?

Indeed, it seems the ASA adopted a similar outlook to this complaint, and were consequently unconvinced by it. They concluded that Rihanna’s facial expression showed defiance rather than vulnerability, and so could not really be considered harmful to women, a decision which seems to take issue with the idea that revealing images of women indefinitely promote a patriarchal culture of objectification.

Despite rejecting this complaint, the ASA have declared the advert to be inappropriate for children, and consequently, it will not be placed in areas where it’s likely to be seen by large numbers of children. This was perhaps the right decision to make, given the polemic surrounding children’s exposure to sexual content and its effects. The extent of this problem, and where the blame and responsibility lies, is hotly debated, but it seems to be widely agreed that the media plays a huge part.

The influence is already there

Sexuality and seduction often has a central role in advertising, most notably in the advertisement of beauty products such as perfume, and it has been argued that this saturation exposes children to the pressures of sexuality, such as a desire to be attractive, at an age when this should still be unknown to them (we’ve seen, for example, the controversy surrounding the sale of skimpy bikinis for young girls).

The decision to restrict the advertising of this perfume seems to conform to the popular notion that we should ‘let kids be kids.’ Children probably shouldn’t be faced with provocative nude images as they’re walking out of school engaged in games with their friends.

Of course, it is unlikely that this decision will go undisputed. You could draw on the fact that restricted advertising is arguably rather redundant in today’s society considering what can be accessed online, or the notion of freedom of expression, and why Rihanna should be limited in the advertising of her products simply because she does so in the way that best captures her own persona (the defending statement given by Parlux Ltd, the company behind the perfume).

However, it seems that the ASA have tackled the issue in the best way possible—in refusing to seriously limit the advertisement, they show a forward thinking attitude towards the depiction of female sexuality, and an unwillingness to compromise the singer’s rights to express herself and her product.

However, the restrictions in place remind us that advertising and the media are extremely influential, and that freedom of expression must be approached with a level of responsibility and appreciation of its potentially harmful effects.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.