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Mexican women win war of the bra ads

POOR Waldo Cervantes. The Mexican advertising executive credited with quintupling sales of Vicky Form underwear has boobed with his latest campaign, which is outraging Mexico City's feminists.

Waldo's idea was to run well-known sayings and catchphrases as slogans next to the models who sprawl across billboards in their lacy bras and knickers. "When the safe is left open, even an honest man will steal" one says - true, maybe, but highly suggestive in the context. Next to a woman in barely-there bikini briefs, legs slightly apart, another advertisement says "A bird in the hand is worth ..." "Give him a good reason to stay at home" says yet another, next to a body spilling out of two tiny strips of white lace

For Anna Fusoni, 54, the final straw was a buxom blonde dominating the roadside, posed beside the catchphrase of a coarse cantina ditty: "If you move it like you shake it ..." As an urbane television executive who worked for Vogue magazine back in the 60s, Ms Fusoni doesn't shock easily, but this, she decided, was "gratuitous aggression against women". Under political pressure from the campaign she led, Vicky Form has backed down. Now black brushstrokes cross out the slogans on every billboard.

For many professional women, pandering to Mexican machismo has gone on long enough. Lecherous remarks are second nature to most Mexican males - indeed, it would be perceived as unmanly not to make them. Self-centred Mexican machos have scarcely registered the advance of women's equality elsewhere, because they still consider women so far beneath them. Only now is the political weight of voices like Anna Fusoni's beginning to be felt.

Promujer, a municipal agency dedicated to women's empowerment, routinely offers legal aid as part of its services. One of their committees penned a petition that rapidly circulated in Mexico City. It read: "To sell its lingerie, Vicky Form offers us female models in positions, that together with slogans or sayings, present them as merchandise offered to men, which is offensive to us women."

Activists who condemn these adverts hasten to distance themselves from a conservative backlash by Catholic politicians when billboards for the Wonderbra first appeared three years ago in Mexico. These depicted a bosomy young woman bursting out of her hi-tech uplift bra. Her cheeky smile showed her apology was mock, not meek. "I'm sorry, I just can't hide it." The centre-right National Action Party pressed the company to withdraw the campaign in the name of public decency.

"Our criticisms are not based on moralism - this is different," insists Gabriela Delgado, co-ordinator for the Promujer agency and a professor of psychology. "The Wonderbra billboards showed a woman who was proud of how she looked. Vicky Form ads are just vulgar insults."

When the federal prosecutor for consumer affairs sued Vicky Form for deceptive advertising and threatened to levy a fine, the company relented. Mr Cervantes stopped crying censorship, and ensured that an X would hide each offending slogan. He doesn't see it as a defeat, exactly. With the Vicky Form brand name still highly visible, and the sexy models smiling in their smalls next to a mystery mark, the billboards are getting more second glances than ever. There's even been an uplift in sales.