A Tale of Two Calvin Klein Ads


Heather Gosling (She/Her) investigates the double standards in FKA Twigs and Jeremy Allen White’s Calvin Klein ads

Article Image

Image by Anthony Rosset

By Heather Gosling

By now, I’m sure we have all seen the Calvin Klein advert featuring The Bear actor Jeremy Allen-White strolling the streets of New York and undressing down to his ‘Calvin’s’ on the rooftop. He is seen stretching and doing pull ups, before lounging on an orange sofa, his muscles glistening. The advert broke the internet and generated $12.7 million for the brand in media exposure in just 48 hours. In contrast, a very similar Calvin Klein ad received a different response, one with heavy undertones of sexism. In the ad, FKA Twigs, a British singer-songwriter, is posed with a denim shirt draped halfway around her bare body with the text “Calvin’s or nothing” underneath. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the Calvin Klein advert featuring FKA Twigs presented the singer as a “stereotypical sexual object”, and banned the advert in the UK on January 10th. The ruling was overturned on March 6th, and the ad is now allowed to be displayed, but the regulator maintained that the ad was “not suitable for display in an untargeted medium” as it was “overtly sexual”. The statement continued that: “We wanted to examine whether we had used inconsistent wording and if we had made the right judgement about objectification in the ad.” ASA have stated that the republished ruling is final.
FKA Twigs took to social media to speak out in defence of her campaign: "“I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labelled me. "I see a beautiful, strong woman of color whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine.” In light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here," she continued. "So to be clear… I am proud of my physicality and hold the art I create with my vessel to the standards of women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Grace Jones, who broke down barriers of what it looks like to be empowered and harness a unique embodied sensuality.” Calvin Klein also defended the advert, and stated that it was similar to advertising campaigns that they have been releasing in the UK for years.
Jeremy Allen White is showing far more skin than FKA Twigs in his campaign, yet there is not a single comment about the focus being on his body and not the clothing. Time and time again, women have their bodies policed in the media. The regulator ASA also stated that the “image's composition placed viewers' focus on the model's body rather than on the clothing being advertised”, but could this not also apply to White’s campaign?
Whilst it would be wrong to suggest that the advertising regulator should not address the sexualisation of women in media, these women have agency over how they are presented – and we should be policing men's and women’s adverts in the same way? The ruling by ASA is rooted in pure gender bias. The hypocrisy of Jeremy Allen White’s campaign being celebrated, and FKA Twig’s ad being banned shows that misogyny is still alive and kicking in 2024.