Sexism row erupts after German cycling helmet ads feature women in underwear

Bonnie Christian
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Sexism row erupts after German cycling helmet ads feature women in underwear

An advertising campaign promoting the use of cycle helmets in Germany has sparked a sexism row because it features women in their underwear.

The ads picture Germany’s Next Top Model contestant Alicija Köhler wearing a lacy bra and a helmet against the slogan: “Looks like s***. But saves my life.”

Another shows a couple lying in bed wearing only their underwear and helmets.

The adverts were due to be plastered on billboards from Tuesday but faced a roadblock when the women’s wing of junior coalition partners SPD demanded that they be dropped.

The adverts, featuring models in their underwear, have sparked a sexism row in Germany.

"It is embarrassing, stupid and sexist for the transport minister to be selling his policies using naked skin," Maria Noichl, chairwoman of the SPD's women's wing, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Katja Mast, the deputy leader of her party’s parliamentary group for women, also dismissed the campaign as “embarrassing, stale and sexist”.

“Half-naked women and men should not be emblazoned with taxpayers’ money on billboards," she told Passauer Neue Presse.

Family Minister Franziska Giffey hit out at Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer of the conservative CSU party.

Posting a photo of herself dressed in a business attire with her bicycle on Facebook, she wrote: "Dear Andreas Scheuer: fully dressed also goes well with a helmet!"

A social media hashtag under the images reads #Helmerettenleben, meaning “helmets save lives”. The pictures were taken by Rankin, the British fashion and portrait photographer.

Defending the adverts, a transport ministry spokesman told AFP: "A successful road safety campaign should jolt people and can be polarising."

He added that they helped reach the intended target audience saying: “young women and men who do not wear helmets for aesthetic reasons.

“Even if we can understand the objections, we stand behind the results. They generate attention for our campaign and can thus save lives,” he said in a statement.

Matthias Hauer, a Christian Democrat MP, reminded critics that “there are also men in the campaign”. He tweeted: “Good that #Helmerettenleben gets media attention — even if the SPD — the “Square Party Deutschland” — has something against it.”