Aging in Adverts; How Advertisements Infantilize Adult Woman and Sexualize Children

Throughout the media landscape the commodification of female bodies in advertisements has become something casual for the consumer. Yet there is a dark direction which many critics would argue has created a dangerous media environment for young girls and women. The following advertisements are controversial because they feature young girls presented as adult women, and adult women posed to appear as young girls. This strategy is problematic because it intentionally blurs the lines between what is a girl, and what is an adult woman for the sake of selling a commercial product.

This advertisement from AMERICAN APPAREL

American Apparel “Bubblicious” 

It most obviously sends the message that for women to be considered attractive to the male heteronormative gaze, they need to reduce themselves to a childlike disposition. The infantilization of women, as seen in this advert, proves precarious in more than one way. In addition to negative body perception in women, it undermines professional women and denies them their due respect in their field. This article COSMO explains that, “When we want to take women down a peg, or undersell their influence, we treat them like little girls.”

Which begs the question, If men frequently see women presented as trivial little girls, are they more likely to treat women as though they are?

If there is an answer to this question, perhaps the advertisement for BIC pens can clarify what the standard for women should be. Afterall, they did run the advert for Women’s Day in South Africa. The controversy was reported on by the BBC.

While BIC did later apologize on their Facebook account for “offending anyone,” the fact that this happened to be cleared by any sort marketing board, shows not only the blatant lack of women involved in their International Women’s Day project, but how trivial and passive men think women in the work place should be.

This advert from ALDO

Every aspect of this photograph is designed to entreat the male gaze, “teasing” the onlooker with what academics like Debra Merskin describe as, “the simultaneous appeal of the vampish and virginal, the forbidden and accessible.” Everything from the ridiculously tall high heels, to the juxtaposition of the sexual gaze and short skirt with the childlike posture and the blowing of the bubble all create this cacophony of an idea that surrounds concept of the sexualized child.

This idea goes even farther with RADIOSHACK’S commercial selling BEATS

Radioshack Beats Pill

This 30 second commercial featuring Robin Thicke for BEATS illustrates the idea that women must be youthful and girlish. This has far reaching implications within the modeling industry, as female models are compelled to lie about their age and go to whatever lengths are necessary to achieve an ideal which straddles between an innocent girl with no sexuality and that of a grown woman with full sexual agency. As academic Ashley Mears has commented in Gender power & uncertainty in fashion modeling, “As ‘girls’, models embody a youthful type of femininity, one that is inexperienced, weak, and deferential. Infantilization functions to discipline fashion models into being young, not just young looking”

Unfortunately, this disturbing trend isn’t exactly a modern phenomenon.

This ad from 1964 for SEA AND SKI SUNTAN LOTION sadly proves that advertisers have been keen on using this kind of imagery for the past 55 years. Sea and Ski was famous for targeting their suntan lotion to young and beautiful women, yet despite it being for women, the ad is still meant to undermine women and bring them to the status of nothing more then eye candy for the male gaze.

Although the idea of making a woman appear girlish can be traced back to the 60’s, many modern advertisers are now using children to promote their brand in a way that can be described as “kiddie porn”.

We can see this idea with MARC JACOBS

Such blatant exploitation has been banned in the past by the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for offensive sexualization of children. This highly controversial advertisement caught the attention of THE GUARDIAN, featuring then 17 year-old actress Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs. The ad ran in 2011 and has been described as “similar to many other edgy images in those magazines” by its distributor, Coty U.K.

This advertisement from CADEAUX continues the idea if the sexualized child…

Featuring a then 10 year-old model, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, and is one of several similarly styled photographs the brand used featuring preteen girls which garnered the attention of Good Morning America for its overt sexualization of young girls. As academic Debra Merskin states in her critique, “Reliving Lolita” , “sexualized images of girls in advertisements have the potential to contribute to the ongoing and increasing problem of child sexual abuse”.

And we are back around to AMERICAN APPAREL.

This Back-to-School advertisement ran in 2014 and was likewise banned by the U.K’s ASA. In an article by Campaign Live, the ASA described two complaints they received describing the ads as “overtly sexual and inappropriate for a skirt advertised as school-wear” and as, “offensive and irresponsible”. Whether or not the model featured in this advertisement is over the age of 18 seems irrelevant as the only visible parts of the model to give the viewer any information other than the plaid skirt suggesting she must be a school girl.


Based upon the previous media texts and reactions from government authorities, news outlets, and parents, the problem of overt sexualization in advertising seems to be that what was once considered sexy and edgy is now not. Hence, advertisers keep pushing the envelope as to what is morally acceptable for public display by using younger models to sell their products and appeal to the male gaze. Although the true extent of the consequences cannot be fully understood or measured, it is reasonable to conclude that this continued pattern of advertising will encourage pedophilia and negative body images in women, girls, and professional models. Furthermore, it is also reasonable to assume that as long as professional women are presented as frivolous little girls men will continue to disregard their input, efforts, and career achievements. This, however can be interrupted if the consumer so chooses to join themselves with other like-minded individuals to organize boycotts against these salacious brands. Such a movement would send a powerful message to the advertising world that our society will not stand by while they victimize young girls and women for profit. It is apparent that such a movement is needed.


Bic apologises for ‘sexist’ South African advert. (2015, August 12). Retrieved from

Filipovic, J. (2017, October 11). The Infantilization of Adult Professional Women. Retrieved from

Harris, D. (n.d.). 10-Year-Old Vogue Model: How Young Is Too Young? Retrieved March 9, 2019, from

Jack, L. (2014, September 03). American Apparel’s ‘sexist’ back to school ad banned. Retrieved March 9, 2019, from

Mears, A. (2008). Discipline of the catwalk. Ethnography,9(4), 429-456. doi:10.1177/1466138108096985

Merskin, D. (2004). Reviving Lolita? American Behavioral Scientist,48(1), 119-129. doi:10.1177/0002764204267257
Sweney, M. (2011, November 09). Marc Jacobs’ Dakota Fanning ad banned for being ‘sexually provocative’. Retrieved March 9, 2019, from