Please Be Better

Dear Fashion Industry, Please Stop Glamorizing Rape

Last week, Indian photographer Raj Shetye joined a long line of fashion photographers who have glamorized violent, abusive, and dangerous situations involving women. His photo series,The Wrong Turn, gained world-wide condemnation in just a few days for its depiction of a woman on a bus being groped by a number of men and trying to (unsuccessfully) fight off their advances. The model in the series, a beautiful young woman wearing designer garments, appears uncomfortable and tries to break free, but cannot. The photos are disturbing and uncomfortable-making. They’re an artistic wrong turn for Shetye, a sad addition to a disturbing trend, and they’re especially unfortunate, given India’s recent history.

Raj Shetye / Via

Raj Shetye / Via

It has been almost two years since the horrendous gang rape and murder of a young intern on a Delhi bus, which gained worldwide attention and sparked worldwide outrage. After seeing a movie one night with a friend, the woman boarded a bus home and was beaten and repeatedly raped with iron rods by a group of male passengers while the driver drove on. She later died. Her death ignited a series of protests and shone a light on India’s rising rape statistics and oppression of women. The protests led to Indian women’s voices finally being heard worldwide on the issues of rape and rampant sexual assault in their country.

Though the similarities between his work and the 2012 incident are fairly unmistakable, photographer Shetye claims that the idea for the photo shoot came to him two years ago, before the bus rape and murder, and, as he told Buzzfeed, “It’s not based on Nirbhaya.” (The December 2012 rape is commonly referred to as “Nirbhaya,” which means “fearless” in Hindi and was a fictional name given to the real victim.)

So, what is the Shetye photo shoot telling Indian women? It normalizes the unacceptable, it beautifies the unspeakable.

Shetye is not the first (and sadly will probably not be the last) photographer to depict violence against women in a stylish, glossy, alluring way.

Just check out this Duncan Quinn ad from 2008.


This Bulgarian magazine spread from 2012


Or this Dolce & Gabbana ad, which was pulled in 2007—but only after running in Esquire magazine.


Fashion is a powerful medium and it can have a big influence in a vast country like India—and the world over. The more we depict violence against women in beautiful, glamorous ways, the more we normalize this violence. If Shetye really wants his art to stand out, perhaps he should work on portraying empowered women who are unafraid to speak out, women who stand up against injustice, and women who are supported and protected and can live unafraid to be in a world with men. That’s an original concept we’ve actually (rarely) ever seen before.


Image via

  • David Wallis

    sorry, to say the first image and the header for this article is depicting outright a violent situation towards women is a fallacy. Albeit the context given in this article gives weight to this view, overall the image and its connotations are open to the viewer and their interpretation. From a communicative perspective, the connotations of the image by Raj suggests an empowerment of the main focus, the woman. Analysing the image and the body language within heightens her strength . The man behind her is tense and angled away from her demeaning multiple aspects such as fear, distance and abrasiveness towards her posture that is upright and commanding. The commanding value is also accentuated by her grasping of the other mans throat without giving him eye contact despite his arm being fully across her torso in a controlling manner. The third man sat points towards her whilst being forced away, his small frame within the image also being dominated by her stature and setting central within the composition. The woman is strong, controlling and emasculated juxtaposed against three men in submissive poses that reflect her dominance. This maybe my own interpretation of the image and I would agree it has undertones of the story you have mentioned but unless the artist in question has directly referenced or stated his influence to suggest the connection and its negativity isn’t justified.

    • Kimberly Knight Proza

      I actually completely agree with you on that interpretation of the first photo. It’s almost like an idealized depiction of how the incident with Nirbhaya should have happened — even if it wasn’t meant to be associated with that tragedy. She is taking control of the situation and the men are submitting to that control and empowerment. I think it’s actually a very feministic photo when examined properly.

      The other images are obviously problematic, but I think Shetye has been wrongfully attacked regarding his photo.

    • Laura Harris Delrieu

      ok…and the other pictures? the noose? the black eye? the woman being pinned down by a man with several other men surrounding her?

      • Joshua James Wilson

        I guess I could see what he’s talking about in the first image and the last image

        but that victim of beauty one was pretty fucked

  • Erica Badgerow-Davis

    Dear World….
    Quit being so fucking sensitive!!!
    It’s art, any form of art pushes limits at times and the good art is usually the ones who do. I swear, no one can do anything without SOMEONE being offended and Politically Correct is annoying.

    • Laura Joanna

      exactly my thoughts as I kept reading the article… i don’t think that those kind of photos promote rape or violent acts, it’s just a means of expression. Even in the past there were artists who expressed themselves in a more dark manner like goya, and still no one blames him or others now for being unfit for public viewing or for promoting things that aren’t right. Criticism is ok and constructive in many cases, but i hate this type of sensitive bitching about anything that isn’t “right”

      • Dana Agostina Mucci

        Yeah but Goya did those images because he wanted to get out of his mind the horror scenes he saw during the war and to leave a testimone because there were no cameras at the moment.
        But the problem of this ads is that they’re no artist expressin themselves they’re creating an image for the sole propouse of selling

    • Maria Gravelle

      Most of these images are used for the promotion of their respective brands – I’d class them as publicity rather than art. While art challenges sensitive subjects and wants us to reflect on them, publicity is aimed at making products look attractive; using attractive people, attractive settings, and seemingly attractive scenarios. That’s why this is not okay. When was the last time you saw a model acting as a murder victim while wearing a D&G dress? Or could you imagine a male modelling a suit while fellow models pin him down as though to rape him?

  • Micah Labishak

    As others have pointed out, the first image doesn’t seem particularly problematic (assuming all of the touching is consensual…), but a single click through to the via link reveals that the criticism of Shetye’s work is not just associated with that one shot but rather with a collection. Regardless of his inspiration, it behooves a photographer to be aware of possible associations viewers may make with his work, particularly when those associations will hit so powerfully as the parallels between Shetye’s photos and Nirbhaya. Furthermore, anyone who makes art is subject to the criticism of his or her audiences, for better or for worse. If sparking a discussion is what Shetye meant to do (as indicated on the via link), he has certainly achieved that, though perhaps not in the way he intended.

  • Samantha Joie Williams

    This first photo is the norm in the fashion world and looks like a typical ad where a beautiful woman wearing glamorous clothing looks dominant while being surrounded by men. I don’t say this to trivialize fashion as a whole but as we see from this article the fashion world holds more than a few flaws. The main outrage came from the series of photos, not just this one. And as a rape survivor I was immediately disturbed. I’m sorry if you feel like it makes me and countless other women “overly sensitive” that ads like this take us back to a moment of emotional turmoil but rape is real event that happens outside of art and has an impact on real people. Art is for the benefit of a world of people who live the pain of everyday life and I am a believer that it’s the responsibility of an artist to take this into consideration. That doesn’t mean that you bow to every whim of the public but to have some respect for the feelings of others. Simply put, what if it were your mother or sister or daughter being depicted this way?
    If not, I’ll have to be “one of those people” who find ads like this dangerous and appalling rather than purely artistic. Some people have a reason to be sensitive about some subjects.

  • Laura Harris Delrieu

    I find it exceedingly more disturbing that so many commenters here find no issue with the images than with the ‘photographer’ who staged and photographed the images. I am in fear for humanity but then I remind myself that the most ignorant among us are commenting here. But still left smh in utter disbelief that ppl don’t recognize what is right before them.

    • Maggie Jankuloska

      Well said Laura, sadly we’ve become desensitized to some things. In a country like India, where bride burning and dowry deaths are still rife and unspoken of, the photos are another sign of how oppressive things can be for women.

    • F bella

      wholly agree with you. Well said.

  • Michele Desfontaine

    Okay. It seems a lot of people have forgotten photographer’s are artists as well. Even fashion photographers. And artist usually do tend to touch sensitive subjects. And while Raj Shetye pictures were somewhat inappropriate I feel as if they were executed badly.
    Duncan Quinn’s one is disturbing I can’t deny it.
    The Bulgarian Magazine ad. Really? Guys it clearly says “Victim Of Beauty”, she’s not trying to sell you anything. She’s obviously raising awareness. A lot of women do actually get attacked or discriminated against for their looks.
    And Dolce & Gabbana, does look something that could seem rape-like and I realise many women might be uncomfortable in such a situation but if you look at her face, she doesn’t seem in the middle of crime but more like a fashion porno I must say.
    People have got to stop accusing the fashion industry for misguided view, a lot of it is just art. Fashion has always been known to push boundaries and test on people’s views. People should stop thinking fashion is here to dictate your views and influence you towards the light or the dark. Like no, it’s suppose to make you think. I didn’t realise every picture needed a by-line for people to realise the picture may not be supporting what it’s showing but just maybe raising awareness.

  • Joshua James Wilson

    well shit if high fashion is doing it than I’m on board too

  • Anna

    Huh….sounds like what Hollywood is trying to do with Fifty Shades of Grey this month. I am thoroughly disgusted with all of it!

  • Mordecai Hunter

    The Dolce & Gabbana isn’t that bad… people only assume she’s being forced by these men, it is entirely possible the scene is consensual.

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