Why was this Miu Miu ad banned for being ‘irresponsible’?

Mia Goth's SS15 campaign has been pulled from magazines after a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency

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Miu Miu spring/summer 2015 campaign Mia Goth
Mia Goth for Miu Miu SS15Steven Meisel

What do you see when you look at this Miu Miu ad with Nymphomaniac actress Mia Goth? The UK-based Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has banned the "irresponsible" SS15 campaign image after a single complaint for sexualising a model who appears to be underage. (For the record, Goth is 22 years old.)

When Vogue ran the ad in a recent issue, a member of the public complained to the ASA that the image appeared to show a child dressed as an adult in a sexually suggestive pose. The ASA agreed; in its ruling, it states that the ad was "likely to cause serious offence" given Goth's deceptively "youthful appearance". 

The ruling reads: "The ASA noted that the model... was wearing very minimal make up and clothes that appeared to be slightly too large. We considered those elements contributed to the impression that she was younger than 16 years of age." The agency reasoned that her appearance and pose could "give the impression that the ad presented a child in a sexualised way... Therefore, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and was likely to cause serious offence".

But this isn't just about Goth's styling in the campaign or her pose – two of the other actresses in the campaign, Imogen Poots and Marine Vacth, both wear similar outfits and were shot by the same photographer, Steven Meisel. Yet somehow, they've both escaped the ASA's wrath. No, this has to do with Goth's actual looks – and so this is about how one adult woman's image is unfairly policed and censored. 

Miu Miu defended the ad to the ASA, pointing out that Goth was in a "sophisticated outfit, without a low neck-line, and nude make up". Hardly sucking-on-a-lollipop-in-a-bikini Lolita type stuff. Vogue also pointed out that it had not received any complaints from their readers. But the ASA is holding firm, ruling that the ad cannot be run again.

"The world has gone mad," one Twitter user said of the ban. "She is 22 and is not dressed provocatively," another wrote. "The ASA is throwing a tantrum about it 'sexualising children'."

Obviously, nobody ever wants to be accused of sexualising a minor. But consider this: Mia Goth is 22 years old. She's starred in a film called Nymphomaniac, for god's sake. The promotional poster for the film even depicted her topless, mid-orgasm – there were no complaints about that. 

Despite being a grown woman, her appearance in print has been deemed to be too provocative for its own good. Meanwhile, campaigns that have sparked accusation of genuine, harmful sexism – like the recent Protein World "beach body" ads on the Underground – have only just been banned after weeks of outrage.

So who draws the line between adult and not-adult-enough? During one obscenity case in the 60s, one US judge famously said about pornography, "I know it when I see it." Banning an ad because you're afraid that a woman's image might be misperceived is like sticking a tiny symbolic plaster over a much bigger issue. It's simply not good enough – and it does us a disservice when it actually comes to discussing real issues like the sexualisation of children. 

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