GrabTaxi’s sexist ‘Love Boobs?’ campaign

From ‘Grabtaxi apologise for ‘insensitive’ breast cancer awareness campaign’, 8 Oct 2015, article by Xabryna Kek, CNA

Car-hailing app GrabTaxi has issued an apology on Thursday (Oct 8), following backlash over its breast cancer awareness campaign. Since the launch of the #GrabitBeatit campaign, GrabTaxi customers have received app notifications with the message “LOVE BOOBS? So does cancer.” The slogan has also been plastered on cars running the GrabCar services.

Some netizens did not take kindly to the tagline. “It’s unfortunate that your Breast Cancer campaign is communicated in a sexist way that objectifies women,” Twitter user Faizal Hamssin wrote.

Boob, I mean book, a GrabTaxi cab now!

Boob, I mean book, a GrabTaxi cab now! (pic:Sunday Times, 11 oct 15)

The hashtag for the campaign reads #GrabItBeatIt, which sounds like the jingle for a bongo drumset than breast cancer. An SMU Associate Professor of Marketing lashed out at the use of the word ‘boobs’ (Grabtaxi’s cheeky campaign on cancer awareness backfires, 11 Oct 15, Sunday Times), as if  changing the slogan to ‘love BREASTS’ would make much of a difference. Besides, the ‘breast’ pun is already taken, by a famous fast food burger chain with a history of ‘objectifying’ parts of the female anatomy.

We love your buns too

In 2012, The Singapore Cancer Society launched the cringeworthy ‘Treasure the Breast Things in Life’ campaign, so GrabTaxi isn’t the only one capitalising on our affection for ‘breasty’ things. ‘Breast’ puns are a tad overused. Cue ‘derogatory’ terms instead.

I guess ‘LOVE B(.)(.)BS?’ is deemed offensive to some women because it’s the kind of porny clickbait that is designed to draw horny men. If there’s anything wrong with the ad it’s that the target audience (males) seems questionable, as most females who chance upon a ‘love boobs?’ ad is likely to dismiss it as one of those spam links to online sex shops selling dodgy bust-enhancement creams. It should also be more inclusive, since breast cancer affects men too, and renamed as ‘LOVE BOOBS AND MOOBS?’, though I’m sure a lot more people love the former than the latter.

As for the physical act of ‘grabbing’, there is, in fact, some grabbing involved when it comes to breast cancer screening, whether it’s done gently via self-examination in the mirror, or by a mammogram that literally clamps your tits together like a medieval torture rack used by misogynistic zealots to force confessions out of women accused of witchcraft. If you’re disturbed (or worse, tickled) by the phrase ‘Beat It’, it just means you’ve descended too far into the darkest realms of S&M.

There’s no shame in admitting that the vast majority of guys love breasts. It’s a shame, however, that people who accuse such ads of being sexist and ‘insensitive’ ignore all the dick jokes done at our expense and other campaigns that mock the male anatomy, like this ‘Clean Your Balls’ ad for example. Making fun of testicles – now THAT’S really hitting below the belt.

Like breast cancer, testicular cancer is no joke of course. But if you had a ‘Love Balls?’ campaign instead, I doubt social media would go all ‘tits-up’ over GrabTaxi’s ad. Somehow ‘Loving boobs’ is offensive, but ‘Playing with balls’ is hilarious. No wonder Ikea never considered raising a meatball charity event to draw our attention to the scourge of testicular cancer. Yes, cancer loves your balls too. Cancer is a sneaky bi-pervert, goddamit!

Allow me jog your mammary-I mean- memory: Some years back, we had a ‘Lift Your Skirt’ campaign for cervical cancer, which had some folks shaking their heads all the way home after spotting the ads at bus stops, because they can’t imagine anything beyond the message than a call for women to expose their panties to men. Naughtiness seems to be the norm if you want Singaporeans to, well, keep abreast of killer diseases. Whatever works to grab your attention, I say, whether it affects the health of your boob, your cervix or your dangling balls.

Then there’s this fun way of raising funds for AIDS in Japan especially for people who ‘love boobs’. I suppose the reason why people don’t complain that this ‘objectifies women’ is because the recipients of the groping work as sex objects for a living.

Well, thanks to GrabTaxi, I’m forced to interpret the lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘My Humps (my lovely lady lumps)’ in a totally different light. Slogan theme song, anyone?


Safra gym ad condoning sexual harrassment

From ‘Seeing red over Safra’s healthy distractions’, 10 March 2014, article by Lee Wan Sim, My Paper

AN ADVERTISEMENT aimed at attracting people to sign up with the Safra National Service Association’s clubs has ended up riling some online. The ad shows two men working out at a gym ogling an attractive woman behind her back, with the tagline: “A great workout, good friends and some healthy distractions.

Several netizens saw the ad as degrading to women. A woman named Cindy Ng posted a picture of the ad, which she said appeared at a bus stop in Upper Thomson Road, on the Safra Facebook page on Saturday.

She said this was “outright distasteful, completely disrespectful to women and borders on condoning sexual harassment”. Several other commenters – both men and women – agreed, with one user called Faith Toh claiming that “through this ad, Safra has endorsed the objectification of women”.

However, others disagreed, saying it was “harmless” and did not degrade women. In a Facebook comment, Safra said the ad was meant “to showcase some bonding moments among our NSmen while having a tongue-in-cheek approach to life experiences”.

“Be it in the gym or anywhere else, it is not uncommon for some women to be checked out by men or vice versa,” it said, adding that the ad was “not aimed to devalue women and neither does Safra condone it”.

Pumping iron never looked so good

Pumping iron never looked so good

AWARE, as expected, got into the thick of the ad controversy, saying that the poster encourages perverted leering and makes gyms dangerous for women. I’m not a fan of gym workouts, but I’d gather one reason why there are often mirrors there is not so you can sneak a glance at someone’s rack, but to ogle at your own bulging awesomeness like the narcissistic handsome devil that you are.

Ogling is universal for both sexes of course, but it’s only played to comedic effect in pop culture when men are the ones doing the eyeballing. Women complain about the sleazy attention to the point of calling it a precursor for gangrape, but few would realise that staring at a comely woman tends to depict men as the more IDIOTIC sex. Whether it’s having them fall into a manhole, walk face first in a pole or fall off a chair, the gag is always on the one nursing a ridiculous hard-on and drooling from the mouth. It happens in sex comedies and ads selling products from shampoo to low-fat yogurt. Why isn’t anyone complaining that the ad undermines our ability to think outside our genitals?

If anything, attractive women are usually the total opposite of HEALTHY distractions. They turn men into total morons, and no exception in a gym if in your attempt to impress the babe on the treadmill, you pump more iron than your body can take and end up with a torn triceps, injuring yourself before you can even think of doing any actual molesting of your own. Even if a woman does get any kind of unsavoury propositions from stinky men in a gym, there are plenty of defensive weapons at her disposal, like the little dumbbell the SAFRA model is carrying for example. The last thing we want to do is chat up a girl who’s all pumped up for her boxercise class, with a devastating 5 pounder in her grasp.

No one in the right mind would sign up for SAFRA just to check out the ‘healthy distractions’. You could do it tactically on the MRT, at work, the beach etc and it would be the perfectly normal thing to do since most men have control over their animal urges and have gotten away with daily ogling without turning into sex maniacs. When you take a staged snapshot and stamp a gym membership product on it on the other hand, it suddenly becomes a glaring endorsement of rape culture and sexploitation. AWARE sure knows how to flex a feminist muscle or too, what with the flag-waving and man-bashing and all. They may get an army song lyric banned, but I doubt their argument here holds much weight.

Viet brides bought for threesomes

From ‘Childless couple has threesome with Viet bride’, 1 Oct 2011, article in, translated from Sin Ming Daily

The boss of a matchmaking agency that specialises in Vietnamese brides has come out to share some of his more bizarre experiences with clients. Lin Ma Ke recalls one of his clients, a well-to-do businessman in his 60s, had approached him specifically for a Vietnamese girl to bear illegitimate children for him.

The businessman had approached Lin three times for girls, the latest time only a few months back. According to Lin, the man is married but childless and wants children to hand down his business to. The couple decided to have a Vietnamese girl bear illegitimate children for them.

Through the agency, the couple went through two Vietnamese girls, both of whom packed up and returned to Vietnam after merely two weeks. Lin found out that the girls had left because the couple had tried to have ‘threesomes’ with them.

Some time ago, Lin introduced another 25-year-old Vietnamese girl to the couple, but she also gave up and left after three months. Lin made further queries to find out why the girls were leaving.

The businessman’s 50-year-old wife was said to be a control freak and had insisted on watching when the man had sex with the Vietnamese girl. The man’s wife also controlled when the man is allowed to have sex with the Vietnamese girl and does not allow the girl to be alone with the man. She also confiscated the girl’s passport and does not allow her to make phone calls.

Lin said, “Although the girl liked that the businessman was very kind to her, she could not bear with the way she was controlled.”

Foreign bride matchmakers are usually thorough in screening their bridal ‘stock’, but there appears to be no measures in place to protect helpless brides from abusive clients. These agencies used to specialise in helping lonely, aging men find a life partner if they could afford it, but have evolved into legitimate facilitators of kinky sex slavery. If Lin knew that his client was already married, why allow the trade? What was once a business of ‘finding one’s soulmate’ has branched into unlicensed womb rental, when all he really did was unknowingly pimp out his ‘bride-to-be’ as a sex-slave to be toyed about by a very depraved, decadent elite businessman with an unquenchable sex drive and a wife with a voyeur-dominatrix fetish.

Bride ‘shopping’ is really a more ‘humane’ form of human trafficking, with the formality of marriage thrown in as a guise of decency when the fact remains that these women are paraded like wares in a slave market, are haggled for a price, put through some ‘test drives’ and are asked to be ‘returned’ if deemed to be ‘defective’. For men who desire sex slaves but can’t afford to go through the ‘legal’ channels, there’s the riskier avenue of hunting young  innocent flesh in nearby Batam. But who wouldn’t be tempted by a $4000 price tag for a Viet bride (slashed by 50% in 2008 during the recession)? That’s even cheaper than that Chanel bag local husbands buy for their wives on wedding anniversaries.

The name of the agency was not mentioned in the article, but from  the  boss’s name (Lin Ma Ke), my guess is ‘Vietnam Brides International’, headed by one of the pioneers of Viet bride trading, Mark Lin of Taiwanese descent. Lin started out with ‘Sin Ye International Matchmaker’ and was featured in an ST article almost 10 years ago (Mate-in-Vietnam marriages, 21 July 2002, ST). According to the report, you had to fork out up to $22k for a wedding tour ‘package’, which includes a virginity check, transport, bridal passport application, and of course, a take-home bride. Viet brides also had the reputation of being ‘demure, conservative with simple needs and expectations’, which was perfect for not-so-well educated local men who have problems marrying ‘upwards’, or finding a  Singaporean woman who would give him a foot massage and a warm home-cooked dinner after a hard day’s work. China brides were out of favour by then, presumably because of increasing cases of men getting conned by them and not vice versa. Lin’s shrewd enterprise of combining matchmaking, holiday and wedding banquet all in one package was a godsend to many lonely Singaporean men with cash to spare.

Just a few years later in 2004, Sin Ye had Viet brides ‘imported’ to deal with the competition, with the Vietnamese embassy reporting that at least 300 brides had arrived in Singapore (Four hours – and he finds a Viet bride, 19 Oct 2004). The majority of clients were middle aged, and obviously wealthy, Chinese bachelors, who simply wanted an ‘obedient and gentle’ wife, contrary to the ‘materialistic, independent’ nature of the modern Singaporean woman, whose ‘spoilt princess’ label persists till this day. The Viet brides themselves were also reportedly ‘seeking’ out foreign grooms, in a bid to break away from a hard life of ‘backbreaking rice-planting’. To many, these agencies, and Singaporean men who craved genuine companionship, were lifesavers indeed. It was a hugely profitable win-win situation for matchmakers like Lin.

The dark side of choose-your-bride quickie marriages emerged in 2005, when an agency in Pearl’s Centre was conned by an old cobbler from Bishan and ‘sold’ a Vietnamese bride for $1 instead of the initial price tag of $10,000. It turns out that the client was already married, and sexually exploited his ‘bride’ for a week in a Geylang hotel, a fate worse than if she had been a prostitute instead. But the issue here isn’t the incompetence of the said matchmaking agency’s accounting department, but rather the lack of regulations to prevent men, rich or poor, single or married, from using such ‘legal services’ to fulfill their sicko sex-in-a-dungeon fantasies.

In the same year, a booth was set up an agency at a family carnival featuring ‘Viet brides on sale’ in a ‘fishtank’ . Note that this was 2005 and our quest for foreign brides had somehow thrown us all the way back to the days of Spartacus by putting human goods on display like chickens at a wet market, except that instead of cages we have ‘glass enclosures’. With such demeaning practices it’s no wonder that Viet brides are being treated like sex objects, used not only as nubile, fertile vessels for someone’s heir, but also forced to participate in lewd orgy games.  It’s not easy to have local men change their mindsets on the ‘ideal’ wife and start courting smarter women, or have successful women accept less well-off men to starve off these matchmakers. Or one could set up a watchdog group to keep all these agencies in check and ensure that their ‘livestock’ do not end up being living sex dolls locked up in a rich man’s wine cellar.  Clamping down on dubious transactions also wouldn’t stop rich perverts from taking their dirty business straight to the source, cutting out the middleman completely.  Despite the modern picture of unconditional love, as well as the sanctity and civility of marriage which we have painted ourselves, there are still things – dirty, sleazy, immoral things –  which money, sadly, can always buy. Meanwhile, Lin is already venturing into Myanmese brides as we speak, having milked dry developing countries of their village women. Before you know it he will be casting his fishing line at Laos or Papua New Guinea. As Bon Jovi once crooned: You give Love a Bad Name.

How much is that human in the window

Abercrombie hires only good looking people

From ‘Wrong to hire staff solely on looks’, 27 Aug 2011, ST Forum

(Bryan Chow): IT IS worrisome that the hiring practices of Abercrombie & Fitch have been confined to purely good looks (‘Abercrombie & Fitch on hunt for attractive staff’; Thursday). By choosing to adopt such discriminatory practices, the fashion icon is subscribing to the notion that outward appearance is the key to success.

Idolising the human body should not be institutionalised in any retail outlet. It is wrong for Abercrombie & Fitch to send a message to potential customers and markets that they do not approve of those whom they deem to be less attractive.

The store should understand that its recruitment practices are bound to affect the self-esteem of youngsters and shape their version of the perfect person. We should be trying to nurture a culture where the youth respect one another and are comfortable with who they are and not what society dictates of them.

Should the Government allow such overtly discriminatory hiring practices?

The arguments about job candidates chosen based on being born in a certain way and how unfair this is could go on forever. A n F is a brand renown for its blatant reliance on overt hypersexuality as a selling point. In fact, it’s probably better that A n F is upfront and honest about its criteria rather than wasting the time of unattractive people applying for a position which is basically glorified eye candy.  In spite of how companies like A n F claim to embrace diversity, what really matters, as everyone already knows deep down, is what works for its bottomline, which in this case so happens to be hunks and babes. Work ethic alone doesn’t cut it anymore, because employers have generally  succumbed to the grand illusion that is the ‘first impression’. Much research has been done on how important good looks factor in one’s self-confidence and earning power, and it’s hard to distinguish between cause and effect when it comes to explaining the relative success of attractive or tall people in other jobs in which being beautiful has no apparent relevance to the job at hand, be it law enforcement, business or even politics.

In the case of A n F, if all you need to qualify for the job is a 6 foot frame, a six-pec and a bronze tan, how is this any different from car show organisers  and lingerie makers hiring only lanky models? Why isn’t anyone complaining about the latter then?  Fashion icons engaging in coarse filtering of its staff is nothing new, in fact, you could even say they’re following by example the actions of a respectable public hospital which discriminates openly when it comes to cherry picking staff only of a certain BMI over other traits that make one a good health worker. We all hear of companies , be it public or private, sneakily hiring only family members, members of a certain religious or racial enclave, or fellow immigrants, all of which discriminatory on the basis of staff simply being ‘born this way’, so what’s so shocking or deleterious about hiring people based purely on looks? In fact, one needs to do more work maintaining a figure than simply be recognised by virtue of heredity.

Even if hiring based on superficial attributes is the standard practice here, anyone can even out the competition for ‘face value’ by undergoing cosmetic surgery these days, be it a tummy tuck, rhinoplasty, ab-sculpting or even Lasik if their goal in life is to stand outside the store premises and get ogled at for a living. So, if there are people out there already willing to sell their souls to a lifelong addiction to plastic surgery in exchange for a dream job, A n F’s recruitment policy is merely a drop in the ocean of an increasingly image-driven and self-obsessed society on the downward spiral. You don’t need A n F to foster this harmful ‘perfect’ image, you see it happening for the longest time in books, magazines , film and television.  It explains the booming plastic surgery and self-help industries, blockbuster antidepressants and Tony Robbins. We will continue to be a discontented, envious and chronically imperfect lot, suffering endlessly trying to live up to manufactured ideals, with or without A n F’s hiring practices and their lewd topless Orchard Road posters.

Kebaya for beauty pageants instead of swimsuits

From ‘Beauty queens and too much skin’, 6 Aug 2011, Mailbag, Life!

(Musliha Ajmain Janssen):…I would not presume to know whose idea it was to include the swimsuit in the beauty pagents but from what I have learnt, it is more than just about showing off one’s best figure.

In Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe where the climate is usually cold, women do not get a lot of chances to wear a swimsuit. When the seasons change and they do get the chance, it is a very big deal, which is why they call it the ‘swimsuit season’. Furthermore, most of them do not have easy access to the beach.

Women there also vary in body shapes (Italian and Spanish women are known to be more curvaceous) which makes watching the competition a lot of more interesting compared to Singapore, where most of the contestants are naturally thin.

Singapore’s climate enables swimsuit wear at any time of the day…so I fail to understand the point of the swimsuit category other than to merely follow the beauty pageant formula…For example, a kebaya would be a good way for the contestants to show off their figures…A kebaya shows off as much, if not more, than a swimsuit does.

This fuss over swimsuits and sexism comes in the wake of organisers of Miss S’pore World 2011 proposing to remove this category altogether, which would surely spell the downfall of the beauty pageant as we know it. Nothing but words being minced around here, with the writer’s final argument being self-defeating because instead of focusing on talent and intelligence as would be the typical stance of feminist swimsuit naysayers, she recommends instead body hugging kebayas as an excuse to ‘show off as much, if not more’ than a normal swimsuit does, though I fail to see how this is possible unless you’re talking about transparent kebayas.

Well to each his own, and call it sexist if you will, but what all men want to see is a teasing flesh parade, not SIA stewardesses on a catwalk. Bikinis are simple and almost anyone with a stunning figure will look good in it, but choose the wrong kebaya and you risk looking like a Nyonya grandmother. What’s left unspoken here, and in fact everywhere else,  is that bikinis don’t just signal figure or complexion, it is also a dead giveaway of bust size, something that kebayas can easily  conceal, or enhance. And no one can deny the harsh fact that being well-endowed does help in the overall scoring for this segment, and hence overall chance of success.

It’s also baffling to say swimsuit contests are unnecessary because Singaporean women get to wear these at any time of the day, as if it were office attire. This is Singapore, Ms Janssen, not Club Med. A woman looking good in a bikini on a beach is as rare a find as one who dazzles in a kebaya on the streets. But the horrible truth is this, men don’t gawk at women in just bikinis anymore. With the internet and Photoshop, nothing is left to the male imagination. We’re not interested in women putting on a sexy show for the sake of it. We’re interested in the context in which their sexiness is presented. A paparazzi shot of an otherwise conservative actress in swimwear intrigues us, whether or not she has a good figure.  But line up smiling bikini-clad women in a contest and asking of a selection like wares at a slave market and you’ve lost our attention.

Although removing the swimsuit category, or anything hinting at nudity from beauty pageants, may encourage more smart, talented, even chubby women otherwise averse to exposing their bodies to sign up for Miss Universe and the like, what’s the point if no one’s interested?  From a purely commercial perspective then, swimsuit contests are a necessary evil, if only for the minority of men who haven’t yet discovered the internet or prefer to snap shots of Miss World in the flesh at shopping malls.

Swimsuit contests in 1954


Still in one piece in 1988


Double O’s double standards

From ‘Ladies Night Dress Code’, 28 June 2011, Voices, Today

(Shalini Jayaraj and Jerrie Tan Qiu Lin): MY FRIENDS and I regularly patronise dblO, a nightclub, on Wednesdays as women get complimentary entry because of Ladies Night. This practice is longstanding among most nightclubs. My friends and I have never had problems getting in.

However, on June 15, an extremely rude bouncer denied a friend entry, citing an alleged “dress code” that women must follow in order to obtain free entry. Apparently, my friend was not dressed in a sufficiently “feminine” manner.  As this was the first time we had encountered such a refusal, my friends and I protested and asked to speak to the manager. First, such a “dress code” was never publicised nor represented to us.

Second, this “non-femininely dressed” friend never had problems getting into dblO in the past. Granted, she does not dress in a “feminine” manner but is most obviously a female.  The manager claimed this “dress code” had been the club’s practice since it opened. Recognising the futility of challenging the code’s existence, we enquired how we could modify my friend’s outfit so as to meet the requisite standard. The manager was contradictory in what he considered “sufficiently feminine”.

First, he advised my friend to head home to change into a dress before coming back. Upon our pointing out of several women who were dressed in a similar fashion as my friend, and yet let in free, the manager said they were allowed in because they wore make-up. But even after my friends and I asked if she could be let in upon applying cosmetics, the manager was reluctant.

I suggest that the management at dblO be more transparent about this “dress code” requirement for Ladies Night. While I do not want to question the management’s reasoning behind the requirement, it would certainly be fairer to the public if such a “dress code” were plainly set out.  Only then will my friends and I have the option of deciding whether to adhere to the required theme or head to another nightclub – especially when the alternative to complimentary entry is a payment labelled on the signboard as being the cover charge for “males”.

This ‘dress code’ is nothing more than a formality substituting for what’s basically a subjective, inevitably sexist assessment of how ‘ladylike’ a patron is, which varies from bouncer to bouncer. A  tomboyish celebrity would be granted entry even if she were in sneakers and a T-shirt, and such biasness is an inevitable catch of Ladies’ Night, an event with long established discriminatory practices; demanding that girls wear lipstick, are not handicapped, and that they must be entirely female. Some clubs like Overeasy even match the number of free drinks you get with your brasize. As a business and with a reputation to maintain, clubs have every right to be discerning in its clientele, otherwise bouncers would be plying their trade as professional gymrats or PE teachers (They’re too bulky to be football players, not big enough to be sumo wrestlers). But it’s an unfortunate fact that if you’re not hip, physically appealing or dressed to kill, as compared to the rest of the socialites savvy with the ‘unspoken rules’ and spent the last 2 hours dolling up, you will be the brunt of euphemistic excuses when the truth is something no girl ever wants to hear, that no amount of make-up will ever earn you that right to a free drink.

It seems that ladies night is more discriminating towards its own sex than paying males, despite what some ads tell you about how ‘discrimination works’ to a lady’s advantage. It’s all part of that exclusivity mythos that distinguishes boutique clubs from your run-of-the-mill pubs, and as maddeningly condescending as it is to put on make up just because a bouncer says so,  it’s worth nothing that we men do things we’re not exactly proud of to gain acceptance into social circles all the time, whether it’s wearing a tie, wearing shiny shoes, or shaving every morning. Of course, if you’re a fiercely independent woman who doesn’t need anyone to tell you what to do or clubs patronising your sex with freebies, you can exercise free will, hit another joint, and tweet about your humiliating experience so no one will ever step into DblO again, since that is the risk clubs are willing to take rejecting women who don’t fit their ‘client profile’. Double O was more blunt in its reason for rejection back in 2005 (See below, ‘Female, but not welcome at a Ladies’ Night’, 4 Nov 2005, Voices, Today), whereby a ‘butch’ was turned away. Hence the politically correct but ambiguous ‘dress code’ 6 years later. Perhaps some definition of what clubs mean by ‘Lady’ is in order, since we’ve been using ‘lady’ far too loosely in daily conversation when we really mean ‘woman’ most of the time. The terminology may have changed, but everything else about Double O’s Ladies Night that makes it still successful, however you want to label it a winning, sexist ‘anti-butch’ formula, hasn’t changed one bit.

Abercrombie ad hints at nether regions

From ‘Orchard Rd topless ad causes stir’, 25 June 2011, article in translated from LHWB

A topless billboard ad along Orchard Road has caused a stir for its giant display of a chiselled male body. Only the model’s upper body can be seen, with a pair of extremely low-slung jeans hinting at his nether regions.

Abercrombie & Fitch is known for its body-beautiful models and has no qualms using sex to sell their brand. Many of its ads display handsome young men wearing nothing but their hipster jeans. The ad has caused quite a stir with people who have seen it.

STOMPer Dees-stracting said she was “embarrassed” when she saw it. She commented that a friend of hers had posted the picture online, asking whether it was too “vulgar”. Dees-tracting admitted that while it was common for underwear ads to feature sexy stars or models, she found it overtly sexy.

“From what I see in this picture, this ad is just of a body. Really, it’s just selling sex. And I can’t even see he is wearing clothes until I look waaay below at his waayyy too low jeans.”

A n F is NSFW

A complete picture would have qualified the ad as a Playgirl Magazine cover of the year. Deliberately scintillating and head-cropped to enhance the theme of sexual objectification, with a chiselled torso and a pelvic V line drawing the viewer’s attention towards what lies beneath the jeans rather than the jeans themselves. The product makes up less than 20% of the ad frame, a common visual strategy employed in topless female lingerie ads as well. But what makes A n F stand out from other retail giants, and hence succeed, is the mass sexual appeal of almost-naked studs in their ads, to both heterosexuals and gays alike.  A n F understands that even alpha-males no longer gaze longingly at Guess girls or celebrities anymore, and uses the lure of a perfect torso to get their attention rather than a handsome Caucasian face. If there’s a woman in the picture, A n F adds in a half naked man to further taunt male audiences. The use of black and white also eliminates the most salient visual racial signal; skin colour.

By removing everything else,  leaving a snippet of the jeans itself, and focussing entirely on physique, A n F is tapping into the most reptilian parts of the envious male brain, hoping that somewhere along the way the neural circuitry that triggers the buying impulse gets activated as well. So, the trick is this; the curious male walks in to see what’s the fuss over topless male models, bringing his female partner and sticks with her out of natural protective instinct, which raises the chances of a double sale (girl buys something for herself and her reluctant shopper male). So there’s nothing controversial about this really, just slick marketing banking on our  brain’s automatic sexualisation of masculine identity, though Singaporeans would do well to recall A n F’s Brothers Wong US campaign which depicted Asians as slitty-eyed laundry men in the early 2000s.

They got it all Wong

Some fashion retailers decide to do away with their clothing altogether, as seen in United Colours of Benetton Aids drive in the 1990’s, which depicts a butt cheek being stamped ‘HIV positive’. Huge international furore over this obviously, and it would be ironic if an ad that serves to educate audiences on the fatal blight that is AIDS also causes motorists to get into accidents from getting distracted by it.

This ad is anything butt cheeky

Jeans ads weren’t always sexy, though. In fact they were once celebrated for their utility at work or play rather than sex appeal, originally cut from the canvas tops of wagons and first worn by Californian gold miners in the late 19th century, or so the story goes (See below, ‘Jeans- standard wear for the fashionable young’, 2 April 1978, ST). Still, the titillative potential of jeans was recognised even then, in the form of a ‘Texwood fashion rock opera’ (‘More skin than jeans shock at fashion show’, 6 Jan 1976, ST), which featured semi nude models stripping down to their underwear, performing ‘vigorous and often indelicate gyrating movements’ at the Singapore Hilton. Unbelievably, earlier in the seventies, a sexist article on tight jeans ‘leaving the boys panting’ was published in the ST (See below, Jeans That’ll Leave the Boys panting,  10 Dec 1972). If that headline were read in today’s context, you’d have thought it referred to how tight jeans were worn by boys instead. Whether it’s on a topless celebrity or a headless stud, you could say no apparel in the history of fashion sets tongues wagging like a pair of jeans can.

Look! These jeans models are actually doing stuff!

Postscript: The ad was eventually deemed to have ‘breached of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice guidelines on decency’ on 28 Sept 2011. 3 MONTHS after it was first plastered over Knightbridge. Three  bodies are involved in the call to suspend the ad, the ASAS (Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore), the MDA (Media Development Authority) and the BCA (Building and Construction Authority), and all this fuss over a gigantic male pelvis. This is really a question of scale not so much as abject obscenity. If the ad were reduced to the size of a poster, it’s unlikely that it would be blown to current proportions.

Here’s what Dr Tan Sze Wee, chairman of ASAS has to say about the decision to pull down the ad on 1 Oct 2011 (Advertising watchdog denies claims of ‘double standards’, ST)

…Asas chairman Tan Sze Wee told The Straits Times that the ad was put up in a prominent location at the Knightsbridge mall in Orchard Road. He noted too that the ad was big – being plastered across the four-level shopfront – and exposed ‘a bit too much’ of the body.

…Dr Tan, commenting on the issue of public ads featuring semi-nude lingerie models, said Asas had reviewed the placement of such an ad at bus stops a few years ago, following public complaints.

‘But Asas found no issue of indecency. Sensitive parts of the body were not overly exposed in the ad,’ he added.

What does Dr Tan mean by ‘exposure of too much body’ here? Has the threshold of the tolerable ratio of flesh to fabric been crossed? If instead of a giant AnF Pelvic Man we have a giant Cleavage Woman, would people still complain?