“Calvins or nothing”: FKA twigs vs ASA

“A stereotypical sexual object’ has been banned from UK billboards late last week. The photos in question were not the Internet-breaking hi def Calvin Klein campaign starring Jeremy Allen White in all his ripped V cut underweared glory, but the black and white imagery of musician FKA twigs in a natural position, a shirt draping the profile of her bare body in classical repose. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) claims FKA’s “image composition placed viewers’ focus on the model’s body rather than on the clothing being advertised.” Because of this ban, a quick Google image search (even from Germany) shows all the images of FKA’s contribution to the campaign censored, blurred, or asking me to log in for age verification to view the ‘adult’ content. 

FKA posted the CK image on her Instagram with an accompanying caption: “In light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here. I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labelled me. I see a beautiful strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine.”

Calvin Klein’s underwear campaigns have long been scrutinized for their eyebrow-raising styling, pre-pubescent heroin chic models, and hyper-sexualized poses coming from the early 90s, yet never before has so much uproar been garnered from a singlular Calvin Klein image. This 2023 campaign placed more-than-just-models FKA twigs and Kylie Jenner as the brand’s ambassadors, posing in a neutral, artistic setting (both equally topless.) The third facet to the campaign is actor Jeremy Allen White, whose poses are arguably the most sexualized out of the three, and yet I only have seen positive feedback garnered, from daytime talk shows to high publication interviews. His sexiness in this campaign bolstered his career, yet FKA twigs was not granted the same opportunity. Kate Moss was 17 when she posed topless, straddling Mark Wahlberg, and this jump started a successful modeling path. FKA twigs is 36, friends with both the campaign photographers, and was offered a lot of freedom in how she would portray herself. She chose to stand strong and muscular, eyes looking directly at the camera, comfortable in her middle aged skin. For the ASA, this is concerning. But for women, the ASA is concerning. 

Out of the 13 council members of the ASA, two of them are black and female-identifying (they both are serving as ‘independent members.’) The strategy of the ASA is “to take into account the prevailing societal trends and beliefs, and base regulation on ensuring we represent everyone. On matters of offense, we will priorities only the most serious cases.” For FKA twigs half-naked body to be posed as a serious offense and threat to societal norms is a joke. Until it’s not. 

The fear from the ASA may be stemming that a powerful woman has taken control of how she wishes and grants her body to be perceived, staring directly at the viewer, rather than allowing a brand or agency to allow a faceless woman to be perceived and sexualized how they wish her to be. In an attempt to “protect society,” the ASA is taking control of not only what we see, but what we may come to consider as offensive. And unfortunately, yet again in true double standard, a black woman is considered offensive in her sexuality while her counterparts are acclaimed for their own overt sexiness. 

We applaud Calvin Klein for standing next to FKA twigs during this shitstorm, while we actively pen letters to the ASA questioning their contradictory stance and regulations.