Things I learned from Ashley Madison's sexist, size-ist campaign

Ashley Madison has been making a walk of shame on the blogosphere* lately with a holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-they-went-there campaign — even for a company that profits off of people to cheating on their spouses.

Fat = Ugly. If you’ve ever stepped outside your door, you’ll have noticed this kind of messaging. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it spelled out like this. The ad, with nary a hint of subtleness to be found, gives you one skinny-hot girl who hits the stereotype on the mark VS one who’s a size 32. You as the viewer don’t get to choose between the two, thanks to the we’ll-do-the-thinking-for-you checkmarks. It doesn’t take into account that, for the variety of shapes and sizes bodies come in, so do personal preferences. Incidentally, the plus-size woman in the ad is a porn star (she also has a name! It’s Jacqueline, or Juicy Jacky if you’re looking for her adult alias) whose image the folks from AM legally found on Getty.

It’s okay to cheat on fat people. “Let’s face it, sweetheart, we’ve been together for a long time, but I just feel like our relationship has been stagnant, you know? Look baby, it’s not me, it’s you! How am I supposed to be attracted to you when you look like that? You we’re practically asking for me to have an affair!” … 

In fact, it’s okay to cheat on people. I’ve never paid much attention to Ashley Madison, for a few reasons. 1. Online match-making isn’t really my thing, 2. I’ve never been married, 3. If I were to have a hypothetical affair on my hypothetical spouse, I would at least go through the hassle of finding a suitable partner myself. Isn’t sneaking around half the fun about having an affair? (Is it? Like I said, I’ve never had one.) Anyways, AM’s mantra is about giving people who are already married “something more.” In an interview with Business Week**, Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media, referred to his site as a “marriage saver […] Do you think if you stop allowing divorce attorneys to advertise, we would stop people from getting divorced?” he says. 

The plot thickens: Jacqueline wrote a rebuttal in Jezebel***, where she explains these photos were taken at an early point in her career by a photographer friend and that she wasn’t aware the photos would be distributed to stock photo sites. “Contributing to this widespread and creeping depression by suggesting, blatantly and without pretense, that fat people are patently undeserving of love and loyalty is repulsive. It is incumbent upon advertisers, and society at large, to act responsibly before foisting something like this onto the world,” she writes. 

On that note, Noel Biderman is a douche bag. Biderman sent a written response to Jezebel soon after her post was published. In it, he writes that this is the best thing that could have ever happened to this woman. “Despite what she may want you to think, she is reaping the press for her own pornography website.” Even if that’s so, let’s just acknowledge that he makes zero attempt at justifying the message behind these ads. He blows it off with the staunch arrogance ostensibly required for being the CEO of Ashley Madison (and thus being able to sleep at night). 

What I don’t get is what Biderman has been doing for the last few years (hiding under a rock on Mars with his fingers in his ears?) that he thought, with the uphill PR battle that running a company like AM comes with, with the stats upon stats of eating disorders, breakdowns and ten-year-olds on a diet, that this sort of advertising is okay. My god man, PICK UP A NEWSPAPER.

So maybe Biderman’s site really is a “public service” of sorts, and maybe it has saved marriages. But when it comes to ads promoting misogyny and scraping the bottom of the self esteem barrel, there’s gotta be a better way to do it.  

~ Elli Stuhler


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