As humorous as it might feel to make fun of this, there are some real “big questions/issues” involved here, that it would do us all some good to take seriously, instead of writing it off as a stupid question.
- Words like “hot” or “sexy” are doing tripple-duty in the vernacular these days. Sometimes they can mean:
[li]This person or thing excites my genitals, and makes me want to have sex.[/li][li]This person or thing is cool, but also is edgy or rebelious/rule-breaking in some way. I’m going to refer to them as sexy not because they literally arouse me, but because their difference (or illusion of difference) is exciting.[/li][li]This person or thing is appealing/attractive. There is no intended connotation of sex or sexual attraction.[/li][/ul]
. . . these meanings cover a lot of ground, and are not always mutually exclusive. Furthermore, people often use the words without thinking much or at all about the different shades of usage, and might not even really know what they mean exactly. And listeners or readers are going to bring their own assumptions.
Is it wrong to advertise clothing to teens using the phrase “homecoming hottie”? Is it wrong to talk about teens as “hotties”? I don’t know if the answer to both of those questions are the same, but they are certainly connected.
- Women are in (have always been in?) a struggle to gain agency over and control how they look (or more precisely how they feel about how they look) independently of the male gaze. This is a fraught, complicated and imperfect task, as we’re all living in and are inheritors of a patriarchal society in which good looking and empowering aesthetics for women have generally been connected to the ways in which their looks make men feel (and of course, a part of this is not just about a patriarchy, but is about human social habits and the want for all of us to be liked and wanted by our peers. Which just makes it all even harder to untangle).
Something like a clothing ad, even if it doesn’t have a tag line that used intentionally or unintentionally sexually charged language (see point #1), is going to sit right in the middle of this knot. Wear what makes you feel good! Feeling attractive makes you feel good! But is feeling attractive at least in part conforming to some version of what you imagine will make other people approve of how you look? And how much of what makes you feel attractive comes from unhealthy and dis-empowering social pressures? And so if I feel good about how I look, am I just reinforcing the patriarchy? Am I setting a good example by doing what I want, or a bad example because what I want is shaped by the patriarchy? Is encouraging other women to feel sexy (whatever that means, again, see point #1) a net good or a net evil?
Too often questions of “is this offensive?” are short hand for “unless you can explain exactly what the rules are, and how they apply to this situation and how they also apply to every other possible permutation of this situation, you’re just getting irrationally upset” (note, I’m not accusing the OP of this).
The thing is, there are no rules; we’re trying to draft new rules (well, more like guidelines) right now. And they will likely never be set in stone. But unless you’re open to thinking about all aspects of this complicated series of questions, you’re not ready to enter into the conversation. And, any time you feel like lack of clarity or precision means that there is no value in a position, think again about how insanely complex our human interactions are, and how often (always) good/bad right/wrong fail us as universal guides to behavior.
And, I’ll add that, if you’re a man and are truly interested in a world where women get to shape this stuff for themselves (or even if you think we’re already there and women already have control), then you need to be committed to embracing the ambiguity of living in a space where things are in flux, and where you have less control over where they are going than you used to.