The luxury fashion house ‘Balenciaga’ has shocked the world and caused massive outrage by including children in an advertising campaign laden with BDSM symbolism and apparel.
Balenciaga was founded in 1919 and has been known for avant-garde and risqué campaigns throughout its history. In recent years, its apparel has gleamed in the limelight upon the shoulders of celebrities including Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Garner, Justin Bieber, and Kim Kardashian.
The eerie photos foster the over-sexualization of children. In one, a little girl, dressed in black, is seen holding a teddy bear in bondage gear, complete with a padlock, fishnet top, and harness on a bed. The stuffed animal clearly representing a sex slave.
In another, a girl is lying on a couch surrounded by adult party gear such as Champagne glasses and jewelry, beside a leash and a dog bowl with large spiked studs.
In yet another photo, a boy dressed in black is standing in a room plastered with obscure and concerning drawings on the wall, including a horned devil, a fanged mouth, and the same bondage-gear plush bear mentioned above.
After a massive media outrage in which many celebrities voiced their concerns, Balenciaga took the ads down and issued an apology on Instagram. “We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” the company posted. The documents the apology referred to were seen in one of the photos: sheets of paper containing text from two U.S. Supreme Court cases: U.S. v Williams, which criminalized child pornography, and Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, which re-classified virtual child porn as protected speech. The company openly admitted “our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign.”
The participating children and their parents are apparently oblivious to the suggestive imagery. The father of one of the girls in the photos called the photo session an ‘“enjoyable day out” and a “fantastic time,” as reported by the Daily Mail. The anonymous father defended photographer Gabriele Galimberti.
The ad campaign becomes even more disturbing when considering that in July, photographer Galimberti, criticizing gun ownership, tweeted: “Why restrict child porn but not guns?”
This glamorization is nothing new in the entertainment industry. The Netflix production Cuties graphically and grossly depicted the hyper-sexualization of minors (11-year-old girls) and has been accused by many critics as being nothing more than child pornography, sparking a large ‘Unsubscribe from Netflix’-campaign.
These instances fit within the larger framework of the premature sexualization of children. Under the pretext of the prevention of child sexual abuse, institutions such as the WHO propagate sex education starting from early childhood. Sexuality is understood thereby as a source of pleasure and energy that should be stimulated and encouraged from birth, calling children “sexual beings” who ought to exercise their “sexual rights.” More often than not, the positive intention to prevent child abuse is mixed or misidentified with their early initiation into a hyper-sexualized environment which actually traumatizes children, potentially even turning them into willing victims of pedophilic abuse.
It seems that exposure to child sexualization has become unavoidable, whether from meddlesome world agencies or designer fashion ads. What’s worse is that it also seems to have become acceptable in public opinion: the initial backlash against the fashion designer that made media headlines last week has already died down and the $25 million lawsuit against the campaign designer has been dropped.