The One Thing No One is Talking About in This Photo

So Singapore’s National Day is coming up (9th August), and people are getting ready to celebrate her 52nd birthday. It usually involves putting together a red and white outfit, and recently this picture has been making the rounds on Facebook:

Folks expressed their unhappiness over the choice of models in the photo, seeing that three out of four appear to be Caucasian. They pointed out that it wasn’t an accurate depiction of Singapore’s ethnic composition of “Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Other”, which means that only one of the models should be allowed to look vaguely white.

Whatever your stance is on the issue, take it elsewhere. I’m here to talk about a detail that I noticed just this morning. Now I can never unsee it, and neither should you.

Take a look at their collars:

Don’t see it yet?

Who wears polo tees buttoned all the way up? The woman and girl in the photo, apparently. That’s not how polo tees are usually worn. Sure, the top button wants to feel just as useful as its neighbour, and if that’s really your preference, go right ahead. Maybe both female models really do prefer to wear their tees in that manner.

What I find interesting is that the man and boy are wearing their respective tees the usual way, i.e. doing up just one button. So what we have here is this image – the male models end up exposing a little more neck, while the female models are more covered up.

I could be wrong, but my gut feeling tells me that this was deliberate styling. You know what it looks like to me? This ad is sending a message to us all, saying that women and girls should be modest and cover up at every given opportunity, while men and boys are not subject to the same expectations.

Am I overreacting? Possibly. But it’s not “just an ad”. There are countless ads and images out there that spread a similar message. (Yes, there are also others that have a completely different message, where cleavage is used to sell just about everything, but let’s save that for another argument.)

Most of you reading this will probably think that it’s just how the world works, and being angry about it won’t change anything. But here’s something to think about – people were quick to zoom in on the “whiteness” of the models, but no one has any issues with how the tees are worn differently by the male and female models. Sure, it’s a minor detail when that’s all you’re looking at, but it’s indicative of a bigger picture.

Most people aren’t afraid to call out racism. We know not to use racial slurs, and if someone has made inappropriate comments, they are promptly corrected. On the other hand, sexism is present in our everyday lives, but it isn’t as easily recognised and called out. Policing how women and girls should dress and behave is just one example. We have to sit with our knees together and our skirts can’t be too short. If we attract unwanted attention in public, somehow people think it’s okay to comment that we’re “asking for it”. I could go on and on, but I haven’t got all day.

So next week, when you’re reciting the pledge and thinking about how we’re equal “regardless of race, language, or religion”, don’t forget gender equality too.


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