Ikea Criticized For Airbrushing Women From Its Saudi Arabia Catalogue

IKEA Bathroom 2; Image IKEA.
Image courtesy of IKEA.

Ikea is a large chain of stores around the world that sells furniture and home accessories.

Recently the company came under fire for removing all of the images of women from the pictures in the Saudi Arabia edition of their catalogue.

In the Ikea catalogue, families are shown using and enjoying Ikea’s products. In the Saudi Arabia version of the book, none of the families show women in them. In other editions of the catalogue, women are featured in the photos.

The images of women were digitally removed from the pictures in the catalogue. This is known as airbrushing or photoshopping.

Ikea said they shouldn’t have removed the images; they regret having done it.

Ikea prints more than 60 versions of its catalogue and sends them all over the world.

The company is based in Sweden, a country that is well-known for promoting equality between men and women. It even has a Government Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a country known for forbidding women to drive cars, travel or work without permission.

A newspaper in Sweden showed two identical pictures (see photos), one from the Saudi Arabia Ikea catalogue and one from other versions of the catalogue. They were identical, except the Saudi Arabia version didn’t show a woman in their photo, even though the other catalogue showed a woman.

IKEA Bathroom 1; Image courtesy of IKEA
Image courtesy of IKEA

When the Saudi Arabia version was printed in the Middle East with women removed from pictures, Ikea was quick to accept responsibility and apologize. They said they are reviewing the way their catalogues are printed to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

In a statement, Ikea said it, “…regrets what has happened and understands that people are upset… (we) take full responsibility for the mistakes made.”

The statement said that Ikea “has a responsibility to (help ensure) that the Ikea catalogue reflects the Ikea values, and at the same time shows respect for cultural differences and local traditions. We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard that this is the way we work in the future.”

CBC news reported that women don’t appear very often in advertising in Saudi Arabia and when they do, they are shown in long dresses and head scarves. In magazines that are brought into the country, images of women have black bars photoshopped over parts of their bodies that are not covered by clothing, such as their arms and legs.

Even the Saudi version of the Starbucks logo, which normally features a long-haired mermaid, doesn’t have the woman in it—just her crown.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The images in this article are very important to the story. These images are owned by Ikea, which means that no one is allowed to use them on the Internet without Ikea’s permission. TKN contacted Ikea and they not only gave us permission to run them, but they sent us high-resolution copies of the images. They also sent us a statement about the incident.
Why do you think Ikea would let people run a photo in which they had made, by their own admission, “an unfortunate mistake”? What does this say about Ikea?

Reading Prompt: Making Inferences/Interpreting Texts
What do you think Sweden’s “Government Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality” is responsible for doing? Come up with five things they might do.

Make inferences about texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts as evidence (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Use stated and implied ideas in texts to make inferences and construct meaning (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Grammar Feature: Quotation Marks
Quotation marks (“”) are used to show what someone said. For example, Ikea said it, “…regrets what has happened and understands that people are upset… (we) take full responsibility for the mistakes made.”

Why do you think the journalist chose to use quotation marks and write what someone said exactly instead of just summarizing it in her own words?