Just in case we hadn’t fully internalized the message that women are most valued for their youth and beauty, Virgin America has introduced a new “younger, hotter” advertising campaign with slogans like “Fool around with a younger, hotter airline” (pictured left) and “Dump your old airline for a younger, hotter one.” 61-year-old Virgin CEO Richard Branson (pictured here with an employee) has responded to charges of sexist advertising by saying, “The old-fashioned way of promoting products and businesses has worked for centuries.” Touché, Sir Branson. Demeaning women has worked for centuries–good point–so why not bank on it?
The popular Virgin America, named America’s top airline this past fall, is no stranger to controversy and allegations of sexism. In 2010, the Virgin America-backed reality show “Fly Girl,” which followed Virgin flight attendants, was roundly criticized for bringing back ’60s stereotypes of ditzy stewardesses.
Selling products by using women’s bodies is not a new strategy. Nor is preying on women’s fears of aging and being “replaceable.” But both are harmful. Virgin’s new advertising campaign reinforces the idea that the value of girls and women is in their “hotness.” Girls and women get the message that no matter what contributions they may make to society, they are ultimately commodities to be replaced and upgraded for younger, hotter models.
UPDATE: Virgin America has responded to the petition by noting that their ‘younger, hotter’ ad campaigns feature men as well as women. We’re not sure it helps their case that their ageism also demeans men. Moreover, this trope is overwhelmingly used to describe men’s attitudes towards women. Demi Moore and Madonna aside, the idea of “dumping” for “younger and hotter” plays on deep-seated ideas about the power dynamic between men and women.
In its response, Virgin also made several other points. This post has been updated to remove references to discrimination lawsuits, which were not against Virgin America, but Virgin Blue, a separate Branson-run airline. In addition, the “Still Red Hot” video campaign previously referenced was by Virgin Atlantic, an unaffiliated Virgin-brand airline.
Adapted from Femometer.com with permission.
Photo of Virgin Airlines billboard by the author. All rights reserved.