I’m honestly not sure what to make of this German lingerie commercial, produced by the online store Liaison Dangereuse, which shows its product being worn underneath a burqa. The campaign itself is little old (from last fall), but a few sites have picked it up in the past few days, and it raises some truly difficult questions that remain extremely relevant, especially in the wake of agitation in France over the burka. The ad itself, which you can view here, is potentially NSFW.
If you didn’t watch it, the ad is a pretty standard lingerie commercial – a woman (with what looks like distressingly “exotic” eye makeup) is shown silhouetted, naked – she towels herself off, walks down the hallway naked in high heels (never fear, all of this is tastefully blurred), dons black panties and a bra, looks herself over in the mirror, adds black stockings and garters, admires herself some more, and finally slips a burka on over all of it. The last shot is of her eyes above her veil, with the tagline, “Sexiness for everyone. Everywhere.”
My first issue with the ad is the music, which along with the makeup creates a sense that this woman is something foreign and exotic. And of course I object to the idea that “sexiness” means the same thing to “everyone, everywhere.” Certainly, this is one extremely culturally specific idea of what it means to be sexually attractive, but the message that women who veil can also be sexy according to Western standards falls flat simply because it’s such a narrow definition of sexiness. This isn’t “sexiness for everyone, everywhere” – it’s “sexiness for sexualized female bodies which conform to rigid and idealized standards of beauty, even if they’re not always on display.”
That said, it’s possible that the advertisers were trying to do something radically inclusive by making women who veil part of the cult of Western sexiness, despite the fact that they don’t outwardly conform to Western standards of beauty. In a way, it seems like a weird kind of olive branch – as if to say, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to look like us on the outside, we know you’re like us on the inside.” But I’m not convinced that this was their intention, and if it was, it certainly wasn’t successful. In addition to the subtly exoticized body displayed in the ad, the company presented a narrow vision of the female sexualized body that many women actively resist by choosing to veil. It tried to be provocative – and at that, it certainly succeeded.
What do you think? Is this ad effective, and what message does it send to women who find cultural resistance in Europe because of their choice to veil?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.