We’re used to advertising being criticized for promoting unrealistic and even unhealthy body images for women via excessive airbrushing and photoshopping, but it’s skin tone, not body type that has H&M under attack for it’s latest swimwear campaign.

If you haven’t come across the 2012 swim line yet, the advertising features Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana a few shades darker than sunkissed as she models the retailer’s affordable bathing suits along the beach. On first glance, you might think the model is a woman of color due to the bronze shade radiating from her skin, and if she were, ideally, there wouldn’t be a problem. But since the fair-skinned model’s tone has been made several shades darker either by makeup or digitization,  the Swedish Cancer Society says the images are dangerous.

“The clothing giant is creating, not least among young people, a beauty ideal that is deadly,” the cancer society wrote in an opinion piece in Sweden’s paper of reference, Dagens Nyheter.

“Regardless of how the H&M model got her tan, through sunning or a computer programme, the effect is the same: H&M tells us we should be very tan on the beach.”

That concern is obviously one that affects white and fairer-skinned women more than those of color, and although H&M has since apologized for seemingly promoting this overly tanned beauty ideal, it’s still worth asking whether the backlash is warranted. These days, society is becoming increasingly PC and always seems to be on the hunt to find something wrong so much so that there is hardly any room for artistic expression. It’s obvious H&M wanted it’s swimwear to standout against beach-bronzed skin, which done with a minority model would have saved them this headache, but is it fair to say these photos would encourage women to darken their skin to this degree all because of an ad? Even a slight tan can be achieved at the beach or with tanning bed—which is what most girls opt for nowadays—is all bronzing in fashion spreads now unacceptable?

At some point we have to leave some responsibility in the hands of the consumer to know what is art, what’s simply an image on display to be admired, and what’s a physical look to try to achieve and recreate. Most women would probably know that distinction with this campaign.

Do you think H&M’s models are inappropriately tanned in this ad?

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