Swedish clothing giant H&M has apologised after a swimwear campaign featuring a deeply tanned model was criticised by cancer groups. Despite initially defending the decision by claiming the model’s dark skin tone accentuated the bright colours of the bikini, the retailer has now backed down in the face of mounting pressure.
Speaking with The Local earlier in the week, a spokesperson for the company defended the ad. “The model in the swimwear campaign is called Isabeli Fontana and she is Brazilian, which means that she has a darker skin tone than most Europeans,” the representative said. However, this stance was reversed after a complaint the Swedish Cancer Society (Cancerfonden).
“The clothing giant is creating, not least among young people, a beauty ideal that is deadly,” Cancerfonden wrote in an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper. “Every year, more people die in Sweden [of skin cancer] than in traffic accidents, and the main cause is too much sunning.
“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 tanned on the beach,” the charity continued. “It is sad to write this, but H&M will, through its latest advertising campaign, not only sell more bathing suits but also contribute to more people dying from skin cancer.”
Cancer awareness groups in Switzerland also spoke out against the campaign. “Many people, especially the young, will try to emulate this and will try to be just as brown, although with some skin types it is just not possible,” Dr Ralph Braun, from the Early Skin Cancer Centre at Zurich University Hospital, told online news site 20 Minuten.
“We are sorry if we have upset anyone with our latest swimwear campaign. It was not our intention to show off a specific ideal or to encourage dangerous behaviour, but was instead to show off our latest summer collection,” H&M said in an email to AFP. “We have taken note of the views and will continue to discuss this internally ahead of future campaigns,” it added.