Lane Bryant Tosses a Grenade in the War on Skinny Models

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 4:46 PM EDT

Lane Bryant is executing an excellent PR strategy with its almost certainly false claim that its ad for Cacique lingerie was rejected by ABC and Fox solely on the basis that the model within it is curvier than the average Victoria's Secret rake. It's also drawing attention to a genuine issue: Whether there's a bias in favor of freakishly skinny models in advertising, and if so whether that gives young female consumers debilitatingly unrealistic ideas about their bodies.

The company's blog states:

It appears that ABC and Fox have made the decision to define beauty for you by denying our new, groundbreaking Cacique commercial from airing freely on their networks.

ABC refused to show the commercial during "Dancing with the Stars" without restricting our airtime to the final moments of the show. Fox demanded excessive re-edits and rebuffed it three times before relenting to air it during the final 10 minutes of "American Idol," but only after we threatened to pull the ad buy.

... What we didn't know was that the networks, which regularly run Victoria's Secret and Playtex advertising on the very shows from which we're restricted, would object to a different view of beauty.

Adweek reports that neither ABC nor Fox have banned the ad. Fox gave a plausibly technical explanation (basically, that VS complies with its edit requests and LB did not, and VS commercials only air in the 9 p.m. slot, not the 8 p.m. hour that LB requested). ABC was rather more blunt:
Their statements are not true. The ad was accepted. Lane Bryant was treated absolutely no differently than any advertiser for the same product. We were willing to accommodate them, but they chose to seek publicity instead.
Clearly, LB is creating stretch marks on the truth in order to gin up interest in what is a fairly standard ad for some unremarkable underwear. One wonders whether Fox or ABC are truly annoyed. They shouldn't be: TV commercials are the dinosaurs of the age, and anything that continues to draw interest to them should be welcomed by sales execs, even if that involves pretending to be angry at your own clients.

The plus-size context to all this is that LB does have a point about how acceptable it is to show tiny women in a state of semi-nudity or arousal on TV shows or in ads while average-sized Americans are relegated to supporting roles that don't involve romantic interests. (Think about Sookie St. James on The Gilmore Girls: does this character have a life that doesn't involve cheerleading from the sidelines for Lorelai and Rory?)

Perhaps there will come a time when a non-full-figured brand chooses to use a non-skinny model to advertise clothing.* If so, LB will have had a role in hastening that day.

*Note that while Britney Spears allowed shots of her non-skinny butt to be released with her Candie's ads, the actual ads featured a digitally slimmed-down version of herself. So that doesn't count. Related: