Queer Representation in Lingerie Ads
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m surrounded on all sides by images of romantic love — and these images are often very geared toward straight people, especially in the lingerie world. Lingerie ads will sometimes feature two women in the same ad image, but these ads often use homoeroticism as a tactic: either to provide some shock value, to showcase contrasts or similarities between objects in the line, or to inject “taboo” sexuality into the ad. Sometimes I see an ad that showcases a queer relationship as a legitimate and positive experience, but these are much rarer.
Last week I talked with Jeanna, founder of the lingerie startup Bluestockings, who has been collecting an amazing gallery of lesbian-themed lingerie ads (you can see it here, if you have a Pinterest account). Looking through these ads together, we noticed that to us as queer people, many of the ads seemed oriented toward straight male fantasy. In these ads, women were posed together in ways that felt devoid of affection, touching each other but looking pointedly at the camera, playing queerness to an audience. These ads suggest that the creator liked the idea of “lesbians” but didn’t actually know much about what that meant, or how queer people would act toward one another. The results often feel… uncomfortable.
Luckily, more brands are being run by queer women and allies who are invested in adequate representation. I’d like to spend some time showcasing the brands that are getting it right: ones that are depicting same-sex relationships for their own sake, rather than for shock value or sex appeal. These are the brands that (to me) seem to be providing good queer representation in lingerie through their ads and lookbooks. The images I’ve found tend to focus on women and feminine-presenting people, although hopefully in the future we will see more representation of masculine queer people in lingerie.
FYI’s tagline is “Women are Weapons”, which is fitting for this hard-edged brand that draws its influence from bondage apparel. Several of their ads feature this particular pair of women together in kinky scenarios. There’s some staring at the viewer in these images, which I often find disconcerting in homoerotic ads, but which here reads more as challenging than inviting of the male gaze. Ultimately the implied oral sex in a product image won me over with its sheer audacity. This is, after all, an edgy brand — but one that seems to be using edginess to serve queer people, not using queer people to enhance its edginess. And their lingerie seems like it might inspire a pretty romantic evening, if your definition of romance includes light BDSM.
Chromat is doing a lot of amazing work as a brand: they’re using women of color, older women, and plus-size women to model their lingerie both in ads and on the runway. Further, Chromat’s blog features a lot of images of women being happy to be around other women: laughing, leaning on each other, grinning at their fantastic experimental outfits. Recently, Chromat did a photoshoot of the band Dark Sister, a two-woman act, and photographed the presumably-platonic best friends in a way which feels a little romantic and very cute. It’s just nice to see women being affectionate with each other in a way that’s clearly not about being watched by men, especially in a lingerie promotional. Check out the whole interview here, especially the dual-selfie photo.) Chromat’s designer, Becca McCharen, identifies as queer and talks about diversity and representation in this amazing interview, so it’s no surprise that Chromat’s ads read as very queer-inclusive.
I’ve saved the queerest for last, and RodeoH’s ad materials are consistently queer friendly. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise from a store that specifically makes lingerie to be worn with strapons. The RodeoH ads are both sexy and fashiony, and the brand makes a point to portray real couples and real customers, which is very cool. I think what interests me about these ads especially is how focused the models seem on each other, rather than on how they look for the camera. The lingerie line is also more diverse than I initially expected, which the ads showcase by showing both masculine of center and femme people (and some men) wearing the different styles available.
I’d love to see more lingerie brands taking an interest in queer representation; for now, though, these three help me feel a little more connected to the queer community during the Valentine’s Day season. If you’re a person hoping to buy some great lingerie for your queer sweetie, these companies are a great place to start looking. If you’re a lingerie brand looking to represent queer people in your ads, you could learn a lot from what these companies are doing: showing people being comfortable with their bodies, depicting queerness as normal, and not insinuating the promise of a threesome into the ad. For goodness’ sake, anything but that.
What do you think of these ads? Did I leave out your favorite queer-inclusive brand? Let me know in the comments!