The Australian “Go Naked” body awareness campaign by Lush Cosmetics launched in August of this year, and has been under speculation in recent months following mixed consumer reviews about the perceived obscenity in their advertising. To lay the foundation on this issue, Lush featured four nude women to represent their product packaging — “go naked,” which features products with virtually little to no packaging. The advertisement consists of four women in a full-body nude “unpackaged” spread with their backs to the camera, embracing each other and their own bodies. The campaign photos are untouched and unaltered to demonstrate raw beauty and defy normalized concepts of beauty in advertising. These models were consensual, some even current employees, who stripped down to promote self-love and positive body image. But alas, Lush’s attempt to break away from traditional packaging and “acceptable” advertising landed them in a crossfire with concerned parents and the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB).
Among thousands of customers, the specific complaints from just four customers perusing Lush stores in Australia were reviewed by the ASB, prompting further investigation into the campaign advertisements. The Board found the images to fall in a grey area of obscenity. Generally speaking, the first amendment doesn’t apply to images that embody pornographic elements, but that doesn’t necessarily negate nudity. As long as the images produced are not obscene, do not involve children but instead convey an artistic or political value, they are valid and protected under First Amendment Rights. But what exactly constitutes obscenity? Although this is left to the discretion of the ASB in this situation, and can be rather ambiguous, it is generally noted that if an image exhibits graphic sexual conduct, offensive material or attempts to sexually arouse its viewers, it is obscene.
The ASB ruled that the images were in fact, not sexual in their essence; however, the Board did make a final ruling to remove the posters in stores because naked women were in broad viewing of children in the shopping centre. In addition, the overall impact of four women as opposed to an individual was cited as crossing an appropriate advertising threshold.
The Lush Cosmetics situation challenges the first amendment, and to an extent steifels artistic expression. The biggest kerfuffle in the wake of the cosmetic campaign is the obvious nudity that Lush is promoting. In contrast, nudity is no newcomer to the fashion world. The underlying tension here is that these women do not fit within the typecast “model” mold that the fashion industry has perpetuated for decades. These are not size 0 models; they have cellulite, they have dyed hair, they have skin imperfections and tattoos. In short, they break away from the norm, and I believe the clash against socialized norms is the true motivator behind the scrutiny of the campaign. Perhaps if these women adhered to what fashion houses and fashion media praise, it’s possible the backlash would be trivial or non-existent. The biggest obstacle present in this debate for Lush is not necessarily nudity in its advertising, but rather, confronting the strong and rigid social constructs around body image and fashion.
We should care about this issue for several reasons. In fact, we should be quite alarmed in some sense. From a community lens, Charleston has its very own franchise of Lush Cosmetics on King Street. We should be aware of what businesses are actively doing and advocating in this great city we call home. From a societal lens, this issue is a shining example of the attempt to challenge individual right and artistic freedom. As consumers and producers of media, we already have limited control over media content. If we allow this type of censorship, we allow ourselves to become even more edited, losing the small control that we possess. It is important to note that nudity permeates throughout the advertising world, and it will continue to do so. The old adage that “sex sells” holds true. With that said, if advertisements that reveal nudity challenge traditional norms, they are often demonized and stripped of the inherent positive message. For example, Lush’s intention was to celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes through “natural” advertisements, which in the process was deemed pornographic. We don’t have to reject an idea, or even a nude campaign from the get-go, simply because it runs against norms or industry standards. But rather, we should make informed decisions and allow ourselves to operate in a manner that is unafraid to stand against conventional schools of thought that dominate modern day policy and law-making, especially when our rights to expression are being tested.
Written by: Evan Alexander
Evan is a proud Greenville, SC native and a senior at the College of Charleston, majoring in Communication. Outside of the classroom, Evan considers himself a fried food connoisseur and if you catch him on the dance floor, you won’t be disappointed. Fun Fact: Evan Alexander applauds anyone who can survive 21 gruesome days on Naked and Afraid.