A tights firm hit out at Transport for London’s advertising rules today after it was forced to cover up part of a model’s back in a campaign image.
Heist Studios, which launched its first advertising campaign on the London Underground this month, was told by TfL’s agents to add a bandeau top to its image of a dancer leaping through the air in a pair of tights.
The model is facing away from the camera and no part of her chest is visible in the shot.
In an email to Heist’s creative director Edzard van der Wyck, seen by the Standard, a member of staff at Exterion Media, which holds the £1.1 billion advertising contract for the Tube, said one of TfL’s “stipulations is we cannot run topless models on the Underground”.
The email continued: “Whilst I know this is only showing a bare back, it still depicts a ‘topless’ model. If we could add a boob tube around the back I think this would be passed.”
Ellie Howard, the head of community at Heist, said: “We were told to cover up the offending area — her back. It’s bonkers.
"We were very excited about sharing our image of a strong, female dancer wearing our tights, especially since women’s underwear ads are usually so heavily sexualised, but it seems that the back of a female dancer is unacceptable.”
Under-dressed Tube ads under fire
In 2015, a Protein World advert on the Tube featuring a model in a bikini and the slogan “are you beach body ready?” provoked 400 complaints that it “body-shamed” women and was socially irresponsible.But the advertising watchdog said it did not break rules.
An ad campaign on the Tube for breast enlargement surgery was defaced by campaigners in 2009. They wrote “sexist shit” next to a quote from a woman who said that going from a 34B to a 34DD was “the best decision I ever made!”
Victoria’s Secret was criticised for a 2014 campaign that appeared to suggest thin fashion models had the “perfect body”. About 33,000 people signed a successful petition calling for the lingerie brand to change the wording.
The adultery website Ashley Madison ran an advert in 2011 featuring a plus-sized model in lingerie and the tagline: “Did your wife scare you last night?”
TfL’s guidelines prohibit advertisements which depict “men, women or children in a sexual manner or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context.
For example, while the use of underdressed people in most underwear advertising may be seen as an appropriate context, gratuitous use of an overtly sexual nature will be unacceptable.”
Ms Howard said: “We’re pretty indignant about that — the image is not designed to be overtly sexual. We use dancing and movement in our imagery to show agency and precisely because we are trying to challenge the way that women are sexualised in underwear adverts.
“There are many male dancers on tube ads who are topless and there are women in seductive poses and clothes, where there’s no agency, yet a muscly dancer’s back has to be covered.
"How on earth can we provide an alternative view of how women should be depicted in underwear if we can’t show it? We think there is something fundamentally wrong with how TfL is screening adverts.”
Last year, Sadiq Khan announced that TfL would no longer run adverts that could cause body confidence issues. The Mayor said the ads could “demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.”
It followed widespread anger over a Protein World advert which featured a model in a bikini with the slogan “are you beach body ready?”.
In February, TfL was criticised by campaigners for allowing another Protein World advert which featured Khloe Kardashian in a bodysuit with the slogan “can you keep up with a Kardashian?”.
A TfL spokesman said that while it had not seen Heist’s advert, Exterion acts on its behalf. He added that TfL bore responsibility for all its advertising: “We set the policy – they are imposing the rules on our behalf.” Exterion could not be reached for comment.