Thoughts on the ABC vs Lane Bryant Ad

The big news this week is the apparent fat phobia of ABC execs in denying a Lane Bryant lingerie ad from airing during prime time hours along with Victoria’s Secret’s “Naked” advertising.

Except, I’m not so sure that fat phobia is at play here. It seems to me to be primarily a case of patriarchal normativism.

Let me explain. In the LB ad we see a curvy girl in figure-enhancing lingerie making a date on her phone, then admiring herself in the mirror, and walking out the door clad only in a trench coat. The implication being that this woman is heading out for some hot sexytimes–and is very much looking forward to it. And her paramour has no idea what’s coming to him. Oh la la! Viva la fat femme!

This is a woman who owns her body and her sex. She is not meek–she is sexually confident and assertive. She does not wait, like the Vicky’s models, passively and winsomely, for her lover to come and satisfy himself on her. No, instead she goes out knowing exactly what she wants and with no doubt that she is going to get it.

Well, that just simply isn’t “proper!”

This is still a patriarchal culture, and women are supposed to be passive objects for male sexual consumption, not active consumers themselves. Any woman who is sexually aggressive is considered “bad”–slutty, mean, promiscuous, man-eating, deceptive, and evil. Consider the characters in movies and TV that are sexually dominant women: the vast majority are portrayed invariably as Villains. The Damsel’s nemesis, or the Hero’s weakness, who must be overcome.

In the context of the LB ad, the sexually dominant attitude of the character adds the element of the taboo to her nakedness–magnifying her sexual presence tenfold. In contrast, the gyrating sirens of Victoria’s Secret are nearly invisible in their adherence to female norms.

The fat phobia here is incidental–a symptom of normativity. A person who is evidentially “normal” has more leeway to engage in non-approved behaviors than one who is not “normal”. It is remarked upon, but it is not threatening. Much like rich white suburban white boys dressing and acting like poor urban black youths. Non-threatening people engaging in “bad” behavior are eccentric–whereas Abnormal, threatening people engaging in the same behaviors are labeled deviant, and are in need of immediate correction. Or censorship.

So, the “problem” with the Lane Bryant ad is not merely that of a “fat girl” showing off, but its of “fat” girl engaging in “deviant” behavior. That’s just not allowed, because why then, “normal” girls might get ideas!