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A male underwear company that had its adverts pulled from social media and an appearance on a morning television show dropped has accused the industry of double standards when it comes to images of semi-clothed male and female bodies.

Moot, an underwear retailer set up by Jules Parker – a metal worker turned undergarment designer – was to be featured on ITV’s This Morning. The show then pulled the planned segment, which would have included a model in a pair of their opaque pants and a white shirt. Parker claims Moot were told that the show’s lawyers said it “wouldn’t get past Ofcom [the broadcasting regulator]”.

Producers told the company that its segment would run at a later date, but the show stopped replying to emails and it never ran. “There was a growing sense of something not being said in the calls in the run-up to the broadcasting date,” said Parker. “It [an appearance] would have changed our lives quite dramatically.”

The experience was indicative of things to come for the company. A number of adverts were then rejected on Facebook, claims Parker. One featuring a model in a thong holding a basketball was blocked for going against community standards. “How is that remotely sexual?” asks Parker.

Meanwhile, Instagram removed posts without explanation, and Moot employees were unable to tag products or use “swipe up to buy”, essential functions for companies when shops closed in the pandemic and e-commerce became the only way to purchase.

One of the rejected Moot male lingerie ads.
One of the rejected Moot male lingerie ads.

Parker thinks there is one set of rules for displays of male flesh and one for women. Since advertising began, lingerie adverts by brands ranging from Agent Provocateur to newer outfits like Pour Moi, Snag, Marie Mer, DSTM and Scantilly by Curvy Kate, have been pushing buttons.

“Issues around men’s underwear adverts seem most often to be related to the presence of the crotch and hints at genitals in the images or slogans which seem to hint towards sexual activity,” said Dr Shaun Cole, associate professor of fashion at the University of Southampton and author of The Story of Men’s Underwear. For example, underwear firm Brass Monkeys got in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 1996 for ads featuring underwear shots and the slogan “Full Metal Packet”. But Cole argues that adverts like these are no more sexualised than those featuring women in their underwear. “There are still double standards in how bodies are represented when semi-clothed,” he says.

For Moot, the future is not looking good. “It’s been a year of blocks and now we are having to consider whether we can keep going,” said the company’s press person, Anna Kilpatrick. “With no platform to pay for the small ads, and no budget for big marketing, we are invisible.”

In a statement, Facebook and Instagram said that while they allow lingerie ads, they do not “allow ads which contain adult content and include images focused on individual body parts, such as abs or buttocks, even if not explicitly sexual in nature”. They also said that a number of Moot ads were correctly rejected but also that some non-adverts were removed in error but have now been reinstated.

An ITV spokesperson told the Observer: “As a topical magazine show, we are constantly in discussion about a host of potential on-air segments at any one time – some of which make it on to the show and, unfortunately, some of which do not.”

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