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H&M apologizes for using too-tan model in ads

The ad shows the olive-skinned Isabeli Fontana deeply bronzed.
The ad shows the olive-skinned Isabeli Fontana deeply bronzed.Photo courtesy H&M

H&M made a splash with its new bathing suits, but not in the way the Swedish clothing retailer intended. The company issued an apology yesterday after coming under fire from the Swedish Cancer Society for a series of ads featuring Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana in bright swimsuits and a very, very dark tan. 

"Every year, more people die in Sweden of (skin cancer) than in traffic accidents, and the main cause is too much sunning," the Society wrote in an opinion article in the Thursday edition of Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, according to the AFP.

The group blasted H&M for what it characterized as creating a "deadly" standard of beauty that unduly influenced young people to tan. It said images like the swimsuit ad campaign "contribute to more people dying from skin cancer."

The retailer responded with an apology via email to the media outlet. "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." While H&M did defend itself by saying the goal was to highlight the bathing suits — as opposed to the color of the model's skin — it also said, "We have taken note of the views and will continue to discuss this internally ahead of future campaigns."

The ads show the olive-skinned Fontana deeply bronzed, an effect that could have been achieved with makeup or digital manipulation instead of via hours in the sun. The Cancer Society did acknowledge that it was possible that Fontana's complexion could have been faked with computer enhancements, but said the image was harmful either way.

 "[T]he effect is the same: H&M tells us we should be very tan on the beach," it said.

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