Model defends 'harmless' role at agricultural show

Agrifac Image copyright Agrifac
Image caption Melissa Sharp (right) said "Barbie bombshell" criticism was "disgusting"

A model has brushed off criticism that her appearance at an agricultural machinery show was "outdated".

At the Lamma show in Birmingham, agricultural firm Agrifac encouraged visitors to get selfies with glamorous trade show models at their stand.

One of the women, Melissa Sharp, said she had a "great time" - adding that her role at the event was "harmless".

However some objected, including estate manager David Hill, who told the BBC it felt "like a backward step".

Speaking to Radio 4's Farming Today Mr Hill, who was not at the event, said: "A lot of women are wanting to be recognised for their contribution to the industry and want to be taken seriously in a previously male-dominated industry."

During the exhibition Agrifac tweeted pictures of the women posing in front of agricultural machinery and with competition winners.

Karen Carter chaired her local Young Farmers club in Devon and is a volunteer for the Farming Community Network. She said she was "disappointed" when she saw the images from the show.

"It is 2019 - it is frustrating we are still having these conversations.

"I have nothing against the girls. The point is this sort of practice is outdated," she said.

Carol Lishman, director of the agricultural manufacturers Martin Lishman, tweeted: "Embarrassing photo and not great for encouraging women in this industry, disappointing this is still happening."

Kate Lord, a farm park manager from Gloucestershire, said it was "an insult to women" who work in the industry.

However Ms Sharp defended her presence at the show.

She tweeted she was there to "promote the brand and to engage with customers as anyone does at a normal job".

She said that other women had been happy to see them at the event because they "brightened up the day".

"People referring to us as blonde Barbie bombshells with no brain cells is disgusting," she added.

Another Twitter user congratulated Agrifac on their promotion: "Provides a talking point, gets your brand noticed and it's harmless fun."

The women were hired by Agrifac from Fan Xperience, a promotions company.

Managing Director Zoe Rutherford praised her employees: "These women are professionals who did a really good job and got a positive reaction from the people who were there.

"The negativity from people, many of whom weren't at the event, has been really unfortunate."

She added: "It is inappropriate for women to be told they are wearing the wrong thing. Women should be allowed to wear what they want to wear."

It is not the first time the use of models at trade shows has been criticised.

Last year, the Gambling Commission condemned the use of women in swimsuits working at the ICE Totally Gaming event.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 made the decision to scrap grid girls, while the Professional Darts Corporation said it would no longer use walk-on girls.

Agrifac have been contacted for comment.

The organiser of the LAMMA show, AgriBriefing, said: "Our terms and conditions are specific that our exhibitors must ensure that nothing on their stand should objectify their staff (be they men or women), and that clothing should be appropriate for a business event.

"When the clothing of some of the promotional staff on one stand was brought to our attention at the end of the first day we raised this directly with the standholder.

"Following further discussions, the activities on the stand were altered and it has been agreed with that standholder that such activity and clothing will not be repeated at future events."

This article was updated on 11 January after the event organisers responded with a quote.

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