JC Penney’s Phoebe Cates Ad Insults Our Bodies

It’s been said before, but JC Penney’s new ad reminds us: The female body is miraculous. We’re proud that our bodies can conceive, give birth and allow us to maintain our active pursuits, and women deserve to feel comfortable with their sexuality, too. So maybe we should take JC Penney’s use of Phoebe Cates‘ sexy bikini-clad body to sell dress shirts as a clever compliment to the female form, but instead, we mostly feel insulted by the implication that our bodies are just an advertising prop.

The ad opens with Kenny Mayne (an ESPN sports journalist and comedian) empathizing with viewers’ hatred of clothing ads, followed by a compromise: Alongside their ads for dress shirts, he offers Cates’ sexy pool scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (minus the actual nudity). As Mommyish editor Shawna Cohen points out, not only is it hard to see the connection between Cates’ 1982 bikini body and dress shirts, but it’s also so blatantly sexist that even the men apparently targeted by the ad (40-something dudes who wax nostalgic over Cates and connect with ESPN’s sports anchors) should be insulted by the assumption that they’re just a bunch of horny guys who’ll buy shirts if they get to see a girl in a bikini.

A quick survey of reactions on Facebook yields reactions ranging from “Not a good choice for JC Penny, who I thought was more of a family store…” to “anyone who thinks this ad is sexist is a prude,” and perhaps the most popular sentiment: “she looks good, but I have no idea what they were selling in that ad.”

Call me a prude, but I’m going to side with the argument that the ad is dumb and sexist. Sure, I’m hip to the fact that sex sells (see an earlier story from today about one guy’s plan to make men eat less meat by opening a vegan strip club). And like I said before: I think we all deserve to feel proud of our bodies and sexuality (that’s why all of us at Blisstree spend so much time thinking and writing about how to take care of your physical health). But using a video of Phoebe Cates about to get naked to sell products to men doesn’t quite pay respect to women’s bodies, if you ask me.

Watch the video and tell us what you think:

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    • ClausH

      It’s dumb and insulting your readers to discuss a video that’s on YouTube since June. How about reflecting about the definition of the term “news” ?

    • ClausH

      Addition: Except from the ad being not really new, I completely agree with your judgement !
      It’s a brilliant achievement to offend women and men with one single ad…….

    • Jason

      I don’t think it’s a shocker that men enjoy attractive women. Get over yourself and your ridiculous faux outrage. This ad isn’t targeted at women. I don’t complain about those zoosk commercials with bare chested men doing unrealistic portrayals of romantic situations

    • rich

      so rediculous to complain about this ad. its gross to me the ongoing campaign to make men more like women. this is an ad, for men, if you dont like it then dont go to JC Penny and change the channel.

    • Steve

      Phoebe Cates was a most beautiful and brilliant actress. It’s great to see her again.

    • Lizabean

      So interesting the comments of people who are upset that women are angry about the ad. Men and women alike should be upset about the ad.
      This is why:
      It’s an ad to sell clothes to men, but it has a sexy bikini clip of Phoebe Cates. She doesn’t speak or do anything relevant to the sale of the clothes. She is there to be a sex object. People like to have sex, but that’s not the point. The point is that she is turned into an object, not a person. The more women are seen as sex objects, the more in danger women are in as targets of violence. That could be your baby daughter, your girlfriend, your wife, your mother, your grandmother. Eventually it makes our society unsafe for all people. It’s not a commercial for men. It’s a commercial against women and the men who want to respect them.

      • Raider

        Wow, thats quite a stretch in the cause and effect theory! A girl in a swimsuit is going to get my daugter raped or subjected to violence? Your mind works in a mysterious process. What do you do when attractive women walk down the street? Do you carry a sheet with you to throw over them so the other males in public dont go on some serial raping spree after an attractive woman walks by? Are you organizing a group of of protestors to close pools, ponds, lakes and beaches?? I just cant see that a girl in a swimsuit causes a raging, uncontrollable need to attack a women. If it does, I’m sorry that person was already sick in the head and is going to create the same crime regardless of a “commercial”. Think it through…. and relax your paranoia. You will be much happier the rest of your life and live in much less unnecessary and self imposed fear!

    • Briana Rognlin

      I think Lizabean says this pretty well, but to reiterate: Even an ad that’s “for men” impacts how our society thinks about women. Sure, I can change the channel or choose to buy my clothes from another store, but if ads like this are on TV, then men, women and children are seeing them and, at least subconsciously, they’re getting the message that women’s bodies are just sex objects.

      Cigarette companies can create ads “for smokers” but the FCC hasn’t allowed them to air on TV for 40 years–the argument that people shouldn’t complain if something isn’t “for them” just doesn’t make sense.

    • Tracey

      It’s a commercial ladies. I am comfortable with my own self and have no problem with this ad. If everyone took all the energy it took to complain about this ad and dedicate to something worthwhile like homeless children….the world would be a better place. Stop taking everything so seriously.

      Shame on you JCPenney for pulling the ad. Stick to your guns!

      • Tracy Nichols

        I agree “shame on you JCPenney” run the ad…Its an ad people-stop reading into things so much. If it sells-RUN IT!!! I loved Phoebe in that movie-I would buy something if I saw that ad and thought WOW could I maybe look like her!!! LOL Do some ads like that for women too!!!

    • Jason Lesnar

      I remember a time when advertisers and people alike had freedom of speech in this country. Where we could say what we really felt without being browbeaten by the PC police in to having to apologize, retract, or censor ourselves because, God forbid, we “offend” anyone.

      Get over yourselves. All of you. That goes for those freaking about how “sexist” this is. It’s a commercial. Meant to be a parody. That’s all. No more, no less.

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

        I remember a time when people mostly knew that “freedom of speech” meant freedom from government powers coercively suppressing that speech, not ‘freedom to say anything/create any sort of art or advertisement” without anyone in the general public airing their opinion on it.

    • Rogers Cadenhead

      I’m dead center in the demographic that ad is aimed at. I think watching that Phoebe Cates scene started my puberty in 1982.

      I still thought it was a dumb ad. I got called a knuckle-dragger by J.C. Penney and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about those clothes.

    • gal

      That was really stupid. I feel like the clothing wasn’t being advertised. The video of Phoebe Cates was distracting and took away from it. Yes, this is sexist but also takes away from the ad. Feels like its not advertising anything but Cates in a bikini. If JC Penny had a spine they should have made another split screen for female buyers…Adam Levine dancing around while “advertising” women’s clothes since the sexism was so blatant anyway lmao! I mean…if you’re gonna do something dumb at least be epic about it, c’mon! :D

    • Julie

      Everyone has missed the point here. This “scene” was an invented fantasy sequence of Judge Reinhold’s character; he was masturbating to what he was imagining she was doing out there by the pool. “Objectifying” doesn’t even come close to what the ad guys are doing to her. Again. Although, she must have had to okay it, and presumably is getting paid for it.