I’ve been thinking about this for a while and a recent article in Business Insider was the catalyst for finally writing down some thoughts. The parents of teenage model Hailey Clauson are suing Urban Outfitters and the photographer for putting a sexually suggestive photo of their daughter on a T-shirt. In this case the model’s age itself doesn’t bother me — Urban Outfitters caters to a young audience — but I do find it jarring to see a 15 year old in such a provocative pose. 

Not that provocative poses are necessarily bad. Last year we documented some very racy retail advertising in Zurich and Milan (caution: not suitable for work) and this doesn’t faze me much. Even nudity can be tasteful in advertising.

That said, I do think the sheer amount of sexuality in ads these days is getting tedious. I’m tired of seeing provocative poses, lustful looks and pouty faces.

Recently forum member Jonesy pointed us to Jezebel’s take on “SexyFace”:

SexyFace, of course, is the ridiculous, open-mouthed, come-hither look that is always the go to for stories on ingenues and sex symbols. A woman is usually seated in a somewhat awkward position, with her eyes expressing one emotion (lust for sex symbols, innocence for ingenues) and her mouth hanging open in a way that makes it seem like she’ll do anything with it except, you know, talk to you.

She captures it very well. And once your attention is drawn to the phenomenon, you’ll see SexyFace everywhere — advertising, magazines, fashion blogs, the red carpet, and even in social networking profile pictures. It all seems so silly and obvious. Why is this happening? Is a sexually provocative look the best way to capture our attention these days? 

Of course, things get really complicated when the trend of selling with sex mingles with the trend of ever younger models. Then it can quickly go from tedious to offensive. American Apparel has been pushing this boundary for a while now, and it seems that Urban Outfitters has just jumped on the bandwagon. No doubt sex is a compelling, sophisticated message to use when marketing to a younger market that is eager to grow up, but is that ok? I don’t think so.

Maybe one day people will look at this blog post and laugh at how much of a prude I was for being offended by a 15 year old in a sexually charged pose. Perhaps some people would even think so today. How about you?