An Akoo Jeans Billboard caught fire in the news and blogosphere this week for its suggestive picture of a young woman on her knees in front of a man's loosened jeans ... you get the drift. Rita Owens spoke out on Essence.com about the billboard that currently sits close to Irvington High School in Newark, NJ., where she teaches:
Essence.com: Mrs. Owens, you know many of the young people who are the targets for the Akoo Jeans bulletin boards in Newark. What was your take on the controversy that built up in the past week?
Rita Owens: I started looking into this before the controversy had become a public discussion. My fiance has an office downtown in Newark, not far from the site of the billboards. He found them disturbing and brought them to my attention. So, I then read about the billboards, and yes, we have all seen many provocative displays in many areas of our culture, but this seemed unusually so. I decided to go take a look at them firsthand.
Essence.com: What did you think when you went downtown and saw the billboards?
Owens: I really felt the image was of degradation. There was no room for denial, in my estimation, that this was a young girl performing oral sex on a young man. The implications of this image and its message go so far beyond selling jeans or clothing, and it's not a good message, nor the right forum to be portraying sexuality for young people.
Essence.com: You point out the implications of these images being part of a bigger issue, a problem for communities and their younger members, like so many you have taught?
Owens: Yes, we have had an epidemic in our culture of young people being demoralized and desensitized by a sort of carelessness about their self-worth when it comes to their sexuality. Young girls have made statements in lots of studies, and I've heard it myself first-person, that oral sex is "not really sex," that it doesn't "count." That's an extremely upsetting place for our culture to be, when a young woman doesn't put more value on herself, and her body. Creating a billboard that, in its own way, endorses her low self-esteem is not good for her, and it is not good for young men, either.
For more of this interview, go to Essence.com.