Clad only in a red bikini bottom and with a long mane of silky hair, the model struts down the runway to a car. The camera cuts from the car to close-ups of the model's androgynous features. When she reaches the car and turns around, the pancake-flat chest and bulge in the bikini reveals that ‘'she’' is in fact a he. It’s 19-year-old Ukrainian male model Stav Strashko.
It's the latest ad for the Toyota Auris. The ad will run only in Japan but has gained an international audience via YouTube.
It’s also apparently part of a revolution in the way advertising treats gender. Writing in Salon last week, Mary Elizabeth Williams praised Toyota's advertising people for avoiding a joke at the expense of transgender people, avoiding homophobia and generally playing with gender. She went so far as to hail the ad as a giant step forward in ''the changing way gender is portrayed in advertising''.
To which I say tosh. No doubt the ad is clever and fun, playing on the usual stereotype of beautiful women and cars. But how exactly does it change the way gender is used in advertising?
The real story here is not one of change, but how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
If anything, the ad reveals, unintentionally, just how much the advertising industry hates women's bodies. And here I’m talking about the bodies of living, breathing women. You know, those strange non-men type beings with two X chromosomes whose unstretched and unairbrushed form tends to be a little curvier and softer than that of men.
The most radical thing about Toyota's ad is that it comes right out and says that the best woman is the complete absence of women: a simulation of a woman that conforms to the idealised male body. We already knew that most female bodies do not meet the cultural definition of beauty – and by implication, value and success – but according to Toyota the definition of beauty is now so far out of reach for women that you need to be a teenage boy to attain it.
Toyota isn't the only offender. Earlier this year Jenny Craig sought out the services of Dame Edna to spruik its expensive yo-yo dieting plans (Jenny Craig, of course, prefers to call its products ''weight loss'' plans. I prefer reality.) While I love Dame Edna, the use of Barry Humphries' alter ego to sell a product targeted at women says that the best woman for the job of selling products and services at women is a cock in a frock.
None of which should be a surprise. The advertising industry isn't exactly on the front foot when it comes to expanding positive images of women. If we do happen to make it past the casting couch, unless we're a model frolicking about in a swimsuit or designer dress, we're either hypochondriacs who seem beset by aches and pains, clean freaks waging an endless war against mostly harmless bacteria, or brainless homemakers whose lives are so dull that news of the latest room deodoriser is enough to launch us into waves of orgiastic bliss.
Toyota’s ad may be a game changer for gender if you’re the sort of person who says things like, ‘'I think women should be able to do anything, but do they have to look and act like men?’' It could also be a revelation if you’re idea of a progressive view is, '‘I’ve got no problem with gay people, but geez do they have to ram it down our throats?’'
For the rest of us, it’s just the same old story.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of four books: 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and the Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child.