Domestic violence: still not chic, artistic or cutting edge

woman sits on couch with black eye and done up hair while man stands behind holding a necklace

The image pictured above is an ad for a hair salon.

It depicts a woman with a black eye sitting on a couch in a dress with her hair done up, and her apparent abuser standing behind her, holding out a piece of jewelry (presumably to make up for inflicting the black eye).

The implication of this ad is that, as a woman, your desire to be beautiful should extend to any situation, even when you’re being beaten by your partner.

It’s tired, offensive, and disgusting, and it’s rightly inspired a number of people to speak out (see comments here).

When I come across such glibly sexist and unambiguously violence-apologist media, I’m often left with frustration that my feeling of rage and indignance aren’t enough. Why do people continue to make light of a topic that has brought about so much violence, pain, and death? Why don’t they understand how they are contributing to the problem?

Instead of asking “Is an ad featuring a battered woman offensive or artistic?”, as this article does, we should ask “is an ad depicting a woman’s black eye as a glamorous accessory and her violent perpetrator as a jewelry-bearing lover creepy, disgusting, offensive, or all three?”

The salon that originally created the ad campaign issued a media release in response to the hubbub, in which it apologized for the ad and also promised to donate proceeds to a women’s shelter. That’s a good start. But the release also featured this ridiculous copout, an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the offense which undermines the rest of the apology:

“Is it cutting edge advertising? Yes. Is it intended to be a satirical look at real life situations that ignites conversation and debate? Of course. Is it to everyone’s taste? Probably not.”

Cutting edge? Please. People have been trivializing domestic violence in ad campaigns for years, so yall can just join the club.

As we discovered during our Feministing group chat on the “Love the Way You Lie” video, depictions of domestic violence in pop culture can be complicated. They are easily controversial, inspiring a host of different reactions even among a group as pro-woman as our writers. That being said, I think it’s safe to say that the whole crew would have a much more unanimous reaction to the ad above.

Considering this is supposed to be an ad for a hair salon, the worst part may just be the hair itself!–lookin like a bird’s nest. Advertising #fail.

I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous and harmful it is to trivialize violence against women, as this ad does. In the words of Rachel Griffin, an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and an anti-sexual violence activist, “if our media depicted more accurate representations of the systemic and everyday nature of gender violence at the intersections than perhaps more people would care and most importantly more people, largely women, would have access to the information they need to survive.”

H/t @heysuburban

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation

  • nicole mercier

    I called the salon at the number on the ad and left a polite msg saying precisely what I think. You can too! Its fun and easy!

    • Trish

      I also did the same about contacting them with my thoughts on their ad.

  • Matthew T. Jameson

    Absolutely horrifying!

  • jss

    This is sort of off-topic, since I can’t say that this particular ad for this particular salon was using this technique, but on this general phenomenon:

    There seems to be a growing trend of advertisers being deliberately offensive in order to generate controversy, which generates press, which generates brand-recognition and sales.

    If this salon made a regular ad, they would have had to pay for that ad to appear on feministing. Because the ad was brutally sexist, however, feministing put their ad up for free, in an article, where more feministing readers are likely to pay attention to it. This ad probably appeared in articles in many other websites the same way. As a result, the person who made this ad got the salon a lot more attention than they would have received otherwise. Sure, a lot of that attention was negative, but the negative attention from sites like feministing often inspires someone to make the passionate case that this is “art” or “freedom of speech” or “edgy” or whatever. That positive attention then gets more customers for the business behind these sorts of ads.

    I worry that advertising criticism is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you ignore nasty ads, you allow these horrible messages to go out into the media unchallenged. If you call them out, you unintentionally promote them and reward the businesses behind them for their nastiness.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for how to call out an ad without promoting it?

  • Magnolia

    Speaking of sexist advertising, have you seen this yet? JC Penny Too Pretty for Homework girls’ t-shirt:

  • Chloe H.

    While they have one over-sexualized ad of a woman in an industrial setting, and another one with a woman who’s at the scene of a motorcycle accident (with “blood” running from her mouth and eye… again, charming), the majority of their female-focused ad campaign either depicts women as mannequins, or in domestic settings – baking cakes; serving tea to the elders, unwrapping presents. In one, a woman is pulling another presumably dead female body out of the trunk of a hearse. Am I the only one who is at a loss here? Perhaps the lady with the hotdog buns sticking out of her ass or the other lady who leads an excessively romanticized version of a homeless lifestyle can explain it to me.

  • Sarah

    I vote someone calls and asks for an appointment, you know explaining that your a victim needing the full “treatment” of services they provide.

  • Sarah



  • Emmett J Doyle

    Another thing that annoys me, from the article you quoted:

    “Is it intended to be a satirical look at real life situations that ignites conversation and debate? Of course”

    Somehow, I really, honestly doubt that the creator of this ad intended to ‘ignite conversation and debate'; not everything controversial is intentionally controversial. Just because someone does something shocking and disgusting, doesn’t mean they’re a clever little man with a message. Sometimes, people do offensive things because they are just crass, classless people. I see nothing at all in this ad that tips me off to it being satirical. I’m sure the creator thought it was clever, but I have a hard time believing he was trying to make a point about domestic violence. This should not be painted as a cleverly feminist ad.

  • Trey

    @ JSS, you make a really good point. In my case, I’d say they can have the publicity, but I won’t spend money at an establishment that uses such advertising. If enough people boycott companies, loss of profits speak volumes.

  • Redpine

    What in the photo suggests that the woman’s injury was due to domestic violence?

    Could she be an athlete having gone to the salon after a rough game in order to get ready for a night on the town?

    • Kathleen Lewis Greenwood

      The creepy man leering in the background was enough of a hint for me.

      • Redpine

        “Creepy”? “Leering”? To my eyes, he’s just standing there. He’s merely plainly wrapped wall candy for the main character. He’s barely noticed. The only thing remarkable about him is the necklace in his hands.

        Why does he appear to be creepy to you?

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      There’s a tension to the way the models are positioned. She doesn’t come across as an athlete relaxing on the couch after an activity that was vigorous and fun to her. She’s tense and expressionless, and seated right at the edge of the couch as though she’s ill at ease or feels she may have to jump up and run from something. He too is stiff, but in a boxlike assertive manner. He’s not perched fragilely on the edge of the couch, he’s on his feet, attentive, and looks ready to control.

      Hey, if they want to claim this is “art”, I will analyze the composition as I would an art piece. Hey, I’m just doing their thing, right?

  • Kait Mauro

    This is so disgusting.

  • Ele
  • Wensie

    who the f@$* thought this was ok?! this is what happens when we lack diversity in the workplace, how many women on the panel that thought this was cutting edge? just ridiculous