As M&S launches new lingerie campaign with older woman – Which type of model do women want to see?

M&S’s bold new advertising campaign features an older woman among its models. But is it a groundbreaking step into the future, or a head-long leap onto the bandwagon of woke? Two Mail writers with very different takes on the shapes have their say…

Bring on tummy rolls and silver hair, says LIZ JONES

At 29, desperate to resemble the flat-chested and perfect model Yasmin Le Bon, I had my breasts reduced.

They had ballooned to a 36DD because of the steroids prescribed to ‘fix’ my eating disorder, and sagged almost to my waist. They repulsed me. So I had surgery to transform them into a 34A.

Back then, had I seen the images released this week by M&S for their new Love Your Boobs campaign to encourage women to go for professional bra fittings, featuring a diverse range of women of all shapes and ages, I’d have been horrified at the sight of large, pendulous, varied breasts and crepuscular cleavages.

But now, age 64? I love, love, love these groundbreaking images.

Striking: A woman in the M&S Love Your Boobs campaign

There’s a breast-feeding mum, a plus-sized model, a disabled model and a breast cancer survivor. My favourite, though, is the one of the older model with silver hair, age spots, tummy rolls and the slightly collapsed midriff. No, she isn’t perfect, but she’s gloriously, unapologetically real, and all the better for it.

Because, far more than the impossibly curvy Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, this is who the M&S customer is.

Older, a bit larger than we were, and with breasts that require something more substantial in the way of support. Sales of bralettes may have soared since we all went free-range in lockdown, with Selfridges reporting sales of soft bras rising by 90 per cent in the past two years. But for the women depicted in these ads, such a bra would be the equivalent of a chocolate teapot.

The bralette, though super comfy and cheap to make, is only supposed to be worn by those who have the two-fried-eggs physique of an Olympic gymnast. For most midlife women, battling saggy boobs and back pain, they simply won’t do.

Yet rather than finding the appropriate bras to help us display our bosoms as proudly as this model has done, we hide them away.

The simple fact is that breasts — because of the porn industry and Pamela Andersons of this world (my goodness, did you see Lily James this week looking as buoyant as a Chinese spy balloon?) — are only deemed acceptable if they are arousing for men.

Women tend to hate their breasts (along with their tummies, legs, you name it). They’re a nuisance. We have even been brainwashed to fear them. As a glossy magazine editor, I stopped running the interminable Breast Cancer Awareness Month/Pink Ribbon features showing stars in their bras precisely because I felt women had become terrified of their breasts, and all that could be wrong with them.

Bring on tummy rolls and silver hair, says LIZ JONES

Bring on tummy rolls and silver hair, says LIZ JONES

And retailers are complicit in our self-hatred. By modelling their wares on a succession of young, slim, perky, tall women, they make the rest of us feel like hippos. They give credence to onlookers who believe us to have the ‘wrong’ figure: too big, too old, too ugly.

But as an older woman with a crepey decolletage, I’m tired of the likes of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley parading her perfection under our noses as if it is the only way to be. I’m sick of being ashamed of my own body.

And, thankfully, M&S, Britain’s biggest bra seller (21 million sold in 2022), has for decades secretly been on the side of women and our unruly bodies.

Yes they may have brought us Rosie, but under the helm of Soozie Jenkinson, who joined the brand in 1994 and is now head of lingerie design, Marks has been at the cutting edge of fabric technology, inventing bonded seams, bonded lace, no more scratchy labels, thigh-smoothers and more, long before Kim Kardashian’s Skims shapewear came on the scene (I’ve worn Skims pants, and you sure as hell can’t eat pasta in them).

Now, with this bold campaign, they have proudly declared that catering for older, diverse bodies need not be a secret.

As Anna Braithwaite, marketing director for clothing at M&S, who spearheaded the campaign and cast the models, says: ‘Older and bigger women are often under-represented in advertising, and we hope through this campaign that more women will feel seen. Our boobs are with us throughout our lifetime, and we should be celebrating, not shying away from, how they change.’

Having said all that, it might take a while for these images to become the norm, and it is too early to know if they will drive sales. I’ve just shown these pictures to a 53-year-old friend, who is a 38DD, and she recoiled. ‘WTAF! The boobs need to be higher, there is no cleavage! Ew!’

But it’s such a shame we’ve become so disconnected from reality, that we think our only function is to be sexy. My goodness, in the 1940s, Christian Dior employed models with grey hair, big breasts, hips and histories. Each couture client had her own corset and mannequin, which he used to build her garment upon. He didn’t expect her to be eternally young. His designs did the work for her, not the other way round.

The older model here simply speaks to me. She has lived, loved, learned. I wish this campaign could run not just for a month, but for ever. It sure as hell would have saved me from going under the knife.

Yes, we age – but I don’t need to see it, says HELENA FRITH POWELL

Since the fashion world took a head-long leap onto the bandwagon of woke, nothing surprises me. But this latest bout of ‘look how inclusive we are’ by M&S seems to me like commercial self-destruction.

When my husband first saw the new M&S campaign advert featuring a woman of a certain age displaying rather a lot of flesh, he thought it was an appeal from Help The Aged. ‘Does she need help buttoning up her shirt?’ he asked.

Curvy: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley promotes lingerie for the store

Curvy: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley promotes lingerie for the store

Perhaps it’s unfair that old people are only ever in ads for stairlifts, hearing aids and funerals, but the fact is no one longs to be old, and adverts are all about desire. They are selling a dream. When you see a model wearing Chanel, she’s not just selling you a garment.

The lady in the M&S campaign is attractive and, as a woman of a certain age myself, it is comforting to ponder the possibility of a modelling career as I ease my way into the troisième age. But while I rushed out to buy the pretty bra modelled by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, 35, I will not be buying the one worn by the older model.

Yes, we age – but I don't need to see it, says HELENA FRITH POWELL

Yes, we age – but I don’t need to see it, says HELENA FRITH POWELL

The poet T.S. Eliot said: ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality.’ I’m with him. Yes, we age, but I don’t need to see it. I barely want to look at my own body in the mirror and I certainly don’t need someone else’s ageing flesh thrown at me.

To be effective, adverts should retain something of the aspirational. And, although it’s laudable to say we should all love our breasts, I’m afraid I don’t want to look like this woman.

Perhaps the marketing people at M&S think this image will get us all talking about their bras, which will eventually lead to us buying them. Fat chance! Or they’re trying to out-woke John Lewis. But if I were running either business, I would go back to basics. However much you try to pretend we are not led by looks, the fact remains that we are. Pretty people sell products.

I suppose at least we should be thankful it’s not a middle-aged bloke wearing this bra. Or maybe that’s next week…