CN clothing ads, including lingerie
I really like this ad.
Five years ago, I would not have known why. Five years ago, it would have pried and pulled its way into my heart, left its effusive warmth all about me, made me linger and hang and obsess. It would have prompted me to retain a copy of it, hidden, for later viewing in emotionally trying times. I would have told no one. I would have felt that strange desire I knew well but didn’t understand, not just recognition of the depicted girls’ beauty, not just an overly detailed analysis of their clothing and the aesthetic relations their bodies bore to it, but a yawning, jealous emptiness.
Today, I know that the wind in that chasm was whispering, “give me your girlhood.”
It took a specific kind of image to make me feel these things. I had no such reactions to images like this one:
Or this one:
And images like this one would bring out the aesthetically fascinated aspect, with me poring over every inch of the depicted woman, memorizing her shapes and curves, and analyzing each strand of her clothing to understand how it fits and how it might feel, but not the deep yearning that made images like the first one so meaningful:
I found little to relate to in the way my straight male friends, in my younger days, would talk about images like these. The Victoria’s Secret and Guess ads would have had them salivating, but the Garage ad would have passed by them like so much empty wall, or garnered no more than a salacious shock-humor quip. So too would this Old Navy ad have meant nothing to them and everything to me:
They’re beaming and laughing and she’s raising her shoulders in a hint of shyness and they’re touching each other with that light, physical affection that is so utterly foreign to men in my cultures and so natural for women, and it makes my heart ache.
I can see now that the vacant pouts and carefully-posed non-action of those ads provided me with little more than momentary titillation because they weren’t for me. The clothing was for women, and I’m currently wearing a bra I purchased at Victoria’s Secret, but the ads are aimed as much at straight men as at anyone else. VS doesn’t just sell underwear, but a fantasy of glamorous, scantily-clad, sexually available femininity, and has burned itself into the Anglophone world’s collective psyche by presenting that fantasy in terms that straight men recognize. I did not see myself in these ads, the way I did ads like the Garage ad above, because I wasn’t meant to—no one is. When Victoria’s Secret wants women to see ourselves in its advertisements, those advertisements look like this:
This is a key question in advertising, and art in general: who is it for?
This ad depicts a lady who could easily have inspired the same jealous visions in me, but she doesn’t:
She’s not the point of this ad. This ad is for the men’s side of Express, and she is a piece of the message the male model is telling the viewer: shop here, and you, too can have a lady this lovely hanging on your arm. The women’s side of Express, conversely, features this vision of sunny, stylish elegance who would have left pre-transition Alyssa confused and obsessed:
I always come back to the group ads, though, especially the ones aimed at girls at about the age I was when the wrongness first arrived. The girls are warm, cheerful, kind, engaged with one another, and delighted at each other’s company. There might be a hint of embarrassment, but there is never fear. They are not guarding themselves against insult or betrayal, they are not hiding big pieces of themselves to be welcome in this crowd, and they are not terrified of missing a cue or overstepping a bound or saying something weird that grinds the conversation to a halt. They are not merely cute and well-dressed and, to my adolescent eyes, attractive, but they are at ease and comfortable and happy. None of these four, or the three in the Old Navy ad, feels like they are being tolerated rather than welcomed, none of them is dissociated into an anxious oblivion, none of them looks in the mirror and sees a stranger looking back. None of them are starved for touch that doesn’t feel like extortion or danger. None of them are afraid to let the others know how they feel with a lean, a hand, or a hug.
None of them spent most of their lives sublimating who they wanted to be into the image of a teenage girl putting her arm around another teenage girl’s leg in nonchalant affection, never sure if they wanted more to be the holder…or the held.
Even now, after it’s become hilariously clear that what I wanted was to be both, these ads bring me a deep smile. In them, I vicariously update my own youth, feeling warmth and ease that I was ever too mentally unbalanced and too off-putting to claim. In them, I trade out what should never have been for what will never be, and hope that future girls will know these joys firsthand.
I hope ads like this never go out of style.