Ralph Lauren Celebrates the End of American Women's Sexuality

This current Ralph Lauren ad required Filippa Hamilton to become a caricature of herself?This version of Filippa Hamilton presents a thin but more real-looking woman.


I would love to ask David Lauren, senior VP-advertising, marketing and corporate communications for Ralph Lauren and also son of chairman-CEO Ralph Lauren if his ahead-of-the pack commitment to the role of digital technology in branding and marketing, involves buying into our Real or Surreal trend.

Making Real Surreal

Digital life gradually blurs all lines of demarcation between reality as we know it, and digital realities springing from the minds of the people who construct these new visions of people, things and experiences.

This is a powerful concept for any artist or graphic artist — creating women as he/she wishes them to be, and not as we are.

More often than not, these image creators are men. I study this trend often in pornography — where the woman becomes a vision of anything a man desires — but the logic applies here as well.

You can laugh at me, but the people behind this new, left-side Ralph Lauren ad seem to render Filippa Hamilton powerless. Not only are women this thin typically ill and even dying, they are effectively neutered of sexual desire.

Anorexia Is Not Sexy

Frequently, a woman stops menstruating and also loses her libido, when she looks like the woman on the left. Perhaps the Ralph Lauren folks are flirting with ‘le petit mort’ and not just in the orgasm department. I understand this image was released in Japan where women are smaller-boned and have much smaller bodies than American women. But anorexia is also on the rise in Japan, a country with unusually strong patriarchal convictions about the role of women in society.

A Smart Sensuality woman has muscles and is strong. This does not mean that she is overweight.

Just yesterday I saw a young woman at my gym who was tall and slender but she lifted an enormous amount of weight. And she had muscles, although they were long and lean. I got off one of the leg press machines, with the weight set at 180 and she flipped it to 230 pounds.

Contrasting these two Ralph Lauren ad photos, I see a desire to render women powerless (on the new left-hand ad) and without sexuality, as Filippa Hamilton appears on the right, in an older ad.

Because I am devoted to our wrestling with complicated topics around female sexuality, I don’t want to let this Ralph Lauren controversy sit only in a pot of bubbling discussion around body image and weight.

Size 0 Is An American/European Burqa

I firmly believe that subconsciously many men, including men designers, wish to eliminate the fecundity of female sexuality — Jung’s great-mother archetype. Male ambivalence around female principles is understandable and deeply rooted in history and civilization.

In Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) 10,000 years ago, men were throwing veils over women and marking them as wifely property. These concepts are deeply rooted in our psyches.

Only advanced cultures work their way beyond this history of female subjugation. In my opinion, the Europeans and especially Scandinavian cultures are way ahead of Americans.

Many Modern women buy into this idea, especially in the fashion industry where women regularly embrace male priciples, as if they are the only ones of value.

Clearly the folks at Ralph Lauren, and David Lauren, who is holding the buck on this one in his position at Ralph Lauren, struggle today with an image of women as powerful, fertile, sensual creatures. Again I say don’t laugh, but I can make a strong argument that the photo on the left is another kind of burqa.

There’s a lot of psychology going on here with our revulsion to the Ralph Lauren ad on the left, and it bears taking a good look into why America is buying into a beauty image of women that renders them powerless and ready to break on a windy day.

On a designer level, Ralph Lauren is a great American brand, with large numbers of women loving his look. What does this say about the Modern American woman’s mindset? In her own mind she also believes that you can’t possibly be too thin and the supermodels of the 90s are heifers. Forcing herself — with plenty of help from advertising and designer egos — she hates herself for not being able to reach her vision of ideal beauty.

Beauty Ideal Game Change

Note also the obvious. Every time a woman reaches the ideal beauty, the game changes and the models become thinner still. These two photos dramatize the negative situation for women. You manage to get to looking like Hamilton on the right, and you are faced with the absurd vision on the left.

There is a reason why American women believe that they are at “peak beauty” at 28, when French, Italian and Brazilian women say ages 35-45. In France as many women answer age 45 as 35.

Female sexuality is celebrated in these countries, in a way that it is not celebrated in America, and I believe there is a correlation between the culture and female identity and self-image.

Preparing to write about the Glamour magazine cover, I reviewed this Dove Campaign for Global Beauty research just the other day. It’s the source of my statements about American women believing that we peak at 28.

Luckily for me, I spent years of my life abroad, and I believe that’s a key reason why I continue to celebrate my age and sexuality.

In America, I should jump off the cliff at about 30. (Just kidding, but this is serious stuff.) Body | Beauty | Culture is now devoted to articles on this topic. 

Freud and Jung would have a field day with these ads. I hope the Ralph Lauren folks have a resident shrink, because they definitely need one. Anne