I took my time writing this post because I wanted to make sure I had the story straight before I wrote it all down. And a part of me wanted to see what would happen next.
American Apparel is a clothing company that has had more than its fair share of controversy in the last couple of years. A quick look at just their Wikipedia page (which is not a good resource for most things) will show you just some of the controversy…some public and some more in the corporate world: They were threatened with being staken off the NY Stock Exchange for failing to submit a quarterly report, they have a history of provocative and sexually charged advertising, they were sued by Woody Allen for using his image without permission, and they have had multiple sexual harassment lawsuits filed by employees and models.
The latest news surrounding AA, is that AA is going to start selling clothes in the size 12-14 range…officially that is plus sized clothing (which to this fat girl still seems small). In anticipation of this, AA advertised a plus sized model search for someone to represent the line. The name of the contest was “The Next BIG Thing”. The model call read:
Think you are the Next BIG Thing?
Calling curvy ladies everywhere! Our best-selling Disco Pant (and around 10 other sexy styles) are now available in size XL, for those of us who need a little extra wiggle room where it counts. We’re looking for fresh faces (and curvaceous bods) to fill these babies out. If you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next XLent model, send us photos of you and your junk to back it up.
Just send us two recent photographs of yourself, one that clearly shows your face and one of your body. We’ll select a winner to be flown out to our Los Angeles headquarters to star in your own bootylicious photoshoot. Runners up will win an enviable assortment of our favorite new styles in XL!
Show us what you’re workin’ with!
So this blogger from Dallas, Nancy Upton, saw the announcement and thought that the ad above was full of not so subtle references to being big (booty-ful, extra wiggle room, not to mention the next BIG thing) and found it condescending. This store that had not dared to sell a size 12 was now saying that 12 was so BIG they had to have a special model search to find someone to wear those clothes. So she sent in pictures of herself that sort of made fun of the model search. Among them are her posing with a bag of chips, a pie, a chicken and bathing in a sea of ranch dressing.
Her idea was that the photos would be satire…they were ridiculous. She said this in an interview with the Daily Beast :
“The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind … How offensive the campaign was… How apparently there were no words in existence to accurately describe the way American Apparel felt about a sexy, large woman, and so phrases like ‘booty-ful’ and ‘XLent’ would need to be invented for us—not only to fill this void in American vocabulary, but also make the company seem like a relatable [sic], sassy friend to fat chicks.”
The photos were added to the AA site and opened up for voting…and you know what she won…the popular vote at least. But she did not win the contest. The Creative Director for AA said this in an email to her:
“Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that ‘bootylicous’ was too much for you to handle. While we may be a bit TOO inspired by Beyoncé, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here.” Alonzo goes on to defend the “decision-makers” in the American Apparel company, over half of whom Alonzo says are women. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I can represent of a ton of people I know when I say that we really like Dov and we passionately believe in his vision for a beautiful factory with sustainable practices,” she wrote. “A lot of people would be very sad if this company wasn’t around.” Alonzo concludes, “Oh — and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.”
I don’t think Ms. Upton really wanted to win…that was kind of the point. But AA lacking to understand how condescending the tone of the announcement was, not to mention that it perpetuates the myth that there is a “perfect body” size and makes girls feel bad if they don’t fit into it, makes this fight worth fighting. So Nancy Upton, my hats off to you…thanks for doing this.