Balenciaga’s ads crossed the line and here’s what you can do about it.

In November, Balenciaga released a disgusting and tone-deaf, if not dangerous, holiday ad campaign depicting children holding teddy bears in bondage harnesses and costumes, with alcohol and bondage gear around them. Many quickly condemned the campaign using the hashtag #cancelBalenciaga on social media and accused the fashion house’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, of condoning the sexualization of children and glamorizing child abuse. Balenciaga’s flagship store in London was graffitied with the word “paedophilia” on one of the windows. Another store in Beverly Hills was tagged with the statement “Children R not sexual objects.”

Soon after, Balenciaga dropped a second ad featuring a bag designed for its 2023 collection sitting atop legal documents pertaining to a 2008 Supreme Court decision on a child sexual abuse material (child pornography) case. The contents of these photos were not left unnoticed. Following swift public criticism and major internal disputes including a $25 million lawsuit, Balenciaga released a statement on Instagram’s temporary story feature:

“We would like to address the controversies surrounding our recent ad campaigns. We strongly condemn child abuse; it was never our intent to include it in our narrative.”

The statement went on to list internal errors and shrug off the court documents as “unapproved” prior to shooting before closing that “The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.”

A second apology was issued by Demna, Balenciaga’s creative director, condemning the photos and upholding the safety of children.

While many have pardoned the ads as just another publicity stunt characteristic to Balenciaga and its creative director’s artistic style, others continue to take issue with the controversial photos. 

Our opinion? Childhood sexual abuse imagery is not art, no matter what. Pondering its legality is not sexy or edgy, it is dangerous and morally bankrupt. This abusive imagery is pervasive across the Internet, and those in positions of power and influence have a responsibility to do everything in their control to end it. 

Children deserve to be protected, and survivors of exploitation and abuse deserve every possible resource we can provide to find support and healing. That’s why Lauren’s Kids developed our Guide to Hope and Healing to help survivors and families find light in the darkness and begin their healing journey – and why Lauren’s Kids Founder and CEO Lauren Book has worked hard to change Florida law to strengthen penalties for digital trafficking of images and to further  combat the proliferation of digital sex crimes, giving law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to go after online predators.

Lauren’s Kids has also worked to educate the public and the media about the importance of language surrounding abuse. We continue to be committed to switching the terminology of “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse material” as it more accurately classifies sexual images of children for what it truly is: abuse. 

We applaud vocal advocates who have helped ensure Balenciaga is able to be held accountable and that our society continues to be educated about the dangers of child exploitation. Together, we can all do our part to speak up, educate others, and ensure this type of harmful imagery is not tolerated so that children can be better protected.