The other day while scrolling through TikTok, something I can shamelessly admit as one of my favorite activities, I came across a user discussing the idea of vanilla vs. violently kinky sex. In this video, the user (whose username I have sadly forgotten), claimed that the normalization of brutal sex and BDSM has gone too far, to the point where gentleness is shamed.
Watching that 60-second clip made me think of our obsessive relationship with violence and the persisting problems of abuse in the fashion industry. Has our obsession with brutality hindered the progress the me too-movement tried to accomplish? And moreover, what role does fashion play in romanticizing abuse?
As many of us may be aware, and as many reports have stated, the usage and normalization of violence and lack of consent in porn have led to a growth spurt in aggressive sex. Verbs like spitting, hitting, and choking have become synonymous with what sex should be while sleeping with someone in an un-kinky way is labeled as boring.
Our obsession with violence could not be more apparent. It is everywhere: in the gory movies, graphic documentaries, and explicit podcasts we all love. The bloodier and more gruesome the better. But the real problem, in my opinion, is not enjoying horror in concentrated forms. The problem occurs when the line between fascination and reality becomes blurry. And this can easily happen when we start to romanticize abuse.
Dolce & Gabbana’s infamously inappropriate ad from 2007
Fashion advertising is the schoolbook example when it comes to glamourizing un-glamourous topics. Just take a look at the industry’s long history of insensitivity. In the late 90s and early 2000s, marketing using shock value reached its culmen. The trend cycles were moving faster than ever before, and brands had to push the limits to get attention and profit. Glossy portrayals of abuse became the new aesthetic used by some of the biggest names in fashion. In his 1995 f/w show, Alexander McQueen sent models with ripped garments, bruised faces, and messy hair down the runway, and in 2007 Dolce & Gabbana released their infamous advertisement depicting an insinuation of sexual abuse.
Alexander McQueen’s f/w 95 show, ”highland rape”, with models in ripped garments.
For a long time, everyday harassment has been a reality for women. And for a long time, nothing changed. Not until the end of 2017, when a hashtag started circulating on Twitter. Women began using #metoo to share their stories of harassment, and soon, the hashtag turned into a movement.
While many industries were shaken by women’s experiences, the fashion world continued to remain rather quiet. Although allegations of sexual harassment towards highly influential photographers like Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, and Bruce Weber surfaced, these men did not receive consequences in the same way as, say, Harvey Weinstein. Condé Nast may have promised not to continue showcasing their work, but Testino, Richardson, and Weber still manage to stay occupied within slightly more secluded parts of the industry.
Mario Testino, one of many male photographers accused of sexual assault during the me too-movement.
Source: By Walterlan Papetti - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35509918
Today we are much more sensitive to offensive marketing and sexist depictions in media, and brands don’t want to risk getting canceled. Still, why is it that the fashion world was not too impacted by the me too-movement? The allegations within fashion were not fewer, less grave, or lacking in evidence. Is the glamourization of sexual violence in fashion causing change to be an impossibility? Will violence always be more okay when seen through the pretty filter of designer glasses? Is our obsession with violence still too prominent? Can gentleness ever not be considered vanilla?
Terry Richardson’s advertisements for Sisley in the 2000s quickly became banned.
By Agnes Fagerudd