The September Issue – Advertising Gone Wild

I have been a faithful InStyle reader for 16 years.  Every September the September issue lands in my mailbox with a thunk.  Carrie Underwood recently weighed an issue on GMA and this year’s issue weighed in at four and a half pounds.  It’s full of wonderful editorial, fall trends and advertising.  Lots and lots of advertising.   Ads telling us to buy this, do that, and you’re not good enough unless you {fill in the blank.}

The September Issue

If you ever wondered how a magazine puts together a four and half pound book, there’s a great documentary called “The September Issue.”   It focuses on the September 2007 issue of the U.S. edition of Vogue.  There is unprecedented access to famed editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s life, both at work and at home {she’s not the devil wears Prada you thought she was, and her home is a bit more casual than you would expect.}

One of Anna’s most trusted employees is Grace Coddington, creative director at U.S. Vogue.  She keeps her red, curly hair unkempt, disagrees with Wintour, and wears head-to-toe black every day.  Honestly, the woman looks like she knows nothing about fashion, but you quickly learn she knows everything about fashion.  I can’t wait to read her book “Grace: A Memoir.”  She’s truly fascinating.  I wish I could sit down and drink tea with her and soak up some of her amazing presence.

“The September Issue” focuses on the editorial, but I want to get back to all those ads.  While I normally smell like the five-year-old bottle of Vera Wang I’m still trying to get to the bottom of, {seriously, does anyone besides my mom ever finish a bottle of perfume?  It takes me years.  Maybe I need to use more…} I realize looking at these ads that I can smell like Katy Perry or Coco Chanel while hitting up my neighborhood Fresh and Easy.  I can wear jeans so tight I can’t sit properly, but I won’t get much grocery shopping done while wearing that crap.  I think that’s the point?


I remember ads in magazines from the 80’s, and it’s obvious what was once unacceptable is now acceptable.    Back then, Charlie was not only bringing home the bacon, she was frying it up in a pan.  A fur coat and thigh highs?  No, high-necked, buttoned-up blouses were what you wore if you were cool.  Was there sex appeal?  Sure.  Remember Brooke Shields and her Calvin Klein’s?  Brooke buttoning up her blouse in the 80’s led way to the 90’s, where a topless Kate Moss and a shirtless Mark Wahlberg hocked underwear for Calvin Klein.

Sexuality in advertising is here, but the question is when is it too much?  Have we come to not only accept, but expect sexuality in our media?  I’m not sure it would bother me as much if I wasn’t the mother of a girl, but I can’t help thinking where it’s all going.  Will we keep progressing in this manner or will we regress and go back to a simpler time where clothing ads were about clothing and perfume ads were about perfume?


Advertisers, as well as music, movies and television, are pushing our buttons.  They like to see how far they can go until there is a backlash.  If there’s no backlash, they move forward.  So, while we were disgusted with Miley Cyrus {which by the way can someone please get her some pants?  Whoever told her a white diaper was cool should be fired and banished from celebrity styling forever} and her recent VMA performance, just know she was pushing our buttons.

She was seeing how far she could go.  How loud would we cheer, or how big the uproar.  Because Miley knows, and you know and I know, that her performance was just the beginning.  As Madonna before her {remember the backlash after her 1984 performance in a wedding dress rolling around on stage at the VMA’s?  No one does.  We now expect that from Madonna.} Miley knows that her 2013 performance at the VMA’s will one day not only be accepted behavior, but be expected behavior.

The reality is just as my mother could never imagine looking through a magazine full of ads latent with sexual messages, I can’t imagine what ads will look like when my daughter is reading her own fashion magazines.  I hope we as a society start to open our eyes and see what is happening to our girls, that the messages we are sending them have a profound impact on their self-esteem, self-worth and how they view themselves in the world.  And I hope we reverse it.  Then again, our moms probably hoped for the same thing, and I guess we turned out all right.  What are your thoughts on sexuality in advertising?

PS – You can get “The September Issue” on Netflix DVD, or stream it from Amazon.

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