The fashion house, Balenciaga, is undergoing major backlash after releasing their Spring/Summer 2023 gift line that appears to show children holding stuffed bears that are dressed in BDSM bondage-like gear. Consumers are saying that this ad is promoting child exploitation. The backlash against the brand was fast, storming the internet with hashtags like #cancelbalenciaga, and videos that showed people burning the brand’s clothes and throwing them out. The Artist behind the photo shoot is Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia. Demna notably mentions that his creative work is thought-provoking but didn’t intentionally release the ad with the idea of child abuse at play.
When examining how child exploitation is portrayed in the media, you’ll notice that it appears to be a distant problem, not one that occurs often. That is until ads like this appear and we are all reminded that the exploitation of children is in our backyards, and the media along with TV shows are desensitizing people to the real issue. Big platforms like Disney and TikTok are fueling the hyper-sexualization of child-stars, yet the connection between child exploitation and hypersexualization remains at bay.
The subculture of BDSM has always been stigmatized and viewed as deviant and unusual but over the past few years, BDSM has gone somewhat mainstream. Historically, BDSM has been depicted as dangerous and evil only taking place in private underground settings, as a taboo sexual practice. As the use of the internet became more popular people started to become desensitized to sex and nudity- BDSM started to surface because it was able to reach a larger crowd of people and eliminate misconceptions, BDSM went from underground, to Hollywood, and now is being used as an advertising technique by major fashion houses. Balenciaga probably thought this would be another subversive juxtaposition to advertise their brand because BDSM is often used within the framework of massive marketing campaigns. The Phenomenon if BDSM is under-examined and high fashion brands are constantly trying to keep up with the modus operandi of the fashion industry. Through this ad Balenciaga created a moral panic, although there are plenty of culturally acceptable ways to objectify your own children, mass media draws the line at BDSM. This ad is a reminder that childhoods are being sold and it’s not just fashion houses that are doing the selling.