Bar Refaeli's 'Muppet' Ad: Sexy? More Like Sexist

It's not new that Israeli ads present women in crude and patronizing ways, but Bar Refaeli's latest role as a puppet's sex doll proves that both agencies and models can't police themselves.

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What is a 12-year-old girl supposed to think as she watches the new Hoodies ad, banned from daytime TV for being "too sexual?" That to be as successful and loved as the star of the ad Bar Refaeli, one of the most influential Israeli popular culture icons, she must turn herself into a sex doll gratifying men in the morning, serving them in a Jacuzzi at noon, washing their cars in tight clothing in the evening and playing strip poker with them as dark falls? And that’s not enough: The clothing company's ad demonstrates that she should create her own multiple doppelgangers to fully service "her" man. The lesson? A woman a sex object of no real worth who always smiles, never speaks, and certainly never says "no."

The ad, created by the Awesome advertising company, reaches new heights of coarseness even by Israeli standards. Its purpose is to create a buzz around their client by disgracing women, using the humiliating role of a prostitute or escort to characterize even successful women.

Just last year, Refaeli took part in another vulgar ad for the American company Go Daddy. In this ad, which was broadcast during the Super Bowl, Refaeli engaged in a long, loud and hard-to-watch French kiss with a nerdy guy. The main purpose of showing them as a couple was to play up the contrast between them.

Despite the grotesquely explicit sexual act, Go Daddy could be given some benefit of the doubt when bearing in mind its intended audience - adults. The Israeli company Hoodies, which sells basic sweatshirts, is geared toward teenagers, and so are its messages. In recent years, Israeli teens – in common with their global peers - have been more and more influenced by the sexual images they are exposed to on social networks, in news reports and on blogs. And this age range’s stars - such as Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian - teach young girls that they have to be provocative and licentious if they want to succeed. Kardashian won her fame thanks to a sex tape, Lady Gaga displays her derriere in every show and Cyrus is perhaps the most extreme example of a young woman who gets ahead only by virtue of her uninhibited, uncontrolled sexual behavior.

It is likely that the only way to fight advertisements of this kind, if the ad agencies’ own ethical depletion is so thorough as to push through campaigns like these, is through courageous legislation. In 2012, Israel’s Knesset passed the Photoshop Law, whose purpose is to protect young models and those who view the advertisements in which they appear. As part of the war on eating disorders, the law stipulated that the ads must state if any use was made of graphic-arts software to make the models appear thinner. To Refaeli’s credit, she has never surrendered to the fashion world’s dictates regarding weight and has spoken openly about the fact that her body does not meet those sick standards.

In light of ads such as Hoodies’, the time has come for Israel to pass a law regulating the way models, girls and women are presented in ads. The Second Television and Radio Authority decided that the ad would not be shown before 10 P.M. so as to prevent teenagers from seeing it, even though that is precisely the time that teenagers watch television — and they can also see it easily enough on YouTube, helpfully uploaded by the agency itself. Only legislation that defines and prohibits disparaging portrayals of women in advertisements at all times of the day will be able to prevent the culture of pornography from seeping into prime time — even if the ad contains just a hint of exploitation. Should we suggest instead of a new law a stricter code of practice?

Hoodies isn't the only Israeli clothing company currently portraying women in a demeaning manner in their commercials. Castro, Israel's leading clothing chain, is being accused in the media of using ultra-skinny models in an ad that shows them playing tennis in tight bikinis. The only man in the ad is the judge, who also happens to be the designer.

It's a far cry from the brand's famous commercial 20 years ago. The most-talked-about ad of the 1990s, it was considered groundbreaking and subversive. Today’s teenagers are not familiar with that ad, which showed a man in a long coat exposing his body to passersby, and then is surprised by a woman he just harassed opening her coat to expose her own body in response, laughing to herself. One can only imagine that if they had wanted to create an ad like that today, in the spirit of our times, the young woman would have had to turn around first in short shorts and a see-through blouse, disrobe in front of the man, and then turn around to take a sexy selfie of both of them to be instantly sent over WhatsApp and uploaded to Instagram.

And while we are talking about Instagram, it is a shame that Refaeli, who has more than a million followers there, has failed to take any advantage of the fact that for the first time in history, top models hold both the camera and the advertising power in their own hands; they themselves determine their own "brand" image and have unprecedented control over how they are shown. They should use this leverage to influence a different advertising narrative, one that does not serially diminish women. Sadly, Refaeli prefers to be photographed in a bikini in dozens of beachside seductive poses, or look at her lovely face reflected in the mirror as she changes out of one name-brand outfit into another, as if the commercial, voyeuristic, masculine gaze had already become the way she looks at herself.