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Weight and Sexuality: American Apparel and The “Next BIG Thing”

October 11, 2011

Nancy Upton: "Next BIG Thing"

Nancy Upton is, if not the “Next BIG Thing” in the fashion world (I’ll explain in a moment), definitely one of the hottest topics keeping the internets abuzz right now. You see, not long ago, American Apparel–every hipsters favorite clothing store–realized that they had alienated the “plus-size” demographic enough and decided to launch a campaign to find the “Next BIG Thing“…because all women of larger sizes are “BIG” and “things,” right? The wording of this initiative was clearly tacky and was advertised by the company as a search for “booty-ful” models who need “a little extra wiggle room”:

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.

Oy. For a company that is notorious for sexual exploitation of its models, I suppose this is not that shocking. But, members of the plus-sized community have been insulted by American Apparel in the past–the most notable being plus-sized adult film star April Flores, who was told that she was “not in the company’s demographic” when she went in to browse the store–and aforementioned Nancy Upton, offended by American Apparel’s “past business practices” and “meat market approach” to finding plus size models, took up arms at this most recent insulting conquest and guess what? She won.

Upton entered American Apparel’s plus sized models search in August as a joke.

Then a strange thing happened. She won.

“In my entry I said I’m a size 12 and I just can’t stop eating. The idea was that here is a girl being as sexy as possible and she can’t stop eating because she is plus size and plus size women love to eat,” Upton explained. “I wanted to convey that size and beauty are not mutually exclusive. You can be beautiful and fat and that’s not a problem.”

The size 12 Texas student won the contest’s popular vote after submitting pictures of herself eating an entire chicken and bathing in ranch dressing, among other food-based poses. Even though voters chose her as their ideal plus size woman, the company rejected her bid claiming they found her entry insulting.

Hah. American Apparel decided to turn the tables on Upton, chastising her with “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 … I wonder if you had taken just a moment to imagine that this campaign could actually be well intentioned, and that my team and I are not out to offend and insult women, would you have still behaved in the same way, mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there?” But Upton, who has become an internet sensation (and was eventually flown out to the company headquarters for a tour and meeting of marketing strategies) remains unapologetic (she wrote an excellent article about her motivations for the photoshoot on The Daily Beast) and extremely well-spoken.

“I don’t believe that beauty should be qualified as BECAUSE of someone’s size or IN SPITE of someone’s size. Beauty is beauty, it’s fluid, it’s objective and it doesn’t need to be justified to or by anyone.”

“American Apparel was going to try to use one fat girl as a symbol of apology and acceptance to a demographic it had long insisted on ignoring, while simultaneously having that girl (and a thousand other girls) shill their products.”

My Big Fat Photo Spoof

Nancy Upton has clearly made a statement, and a profound one at that. Why is the clothing industry so inaccessible to curvy/larger (than mannequins)/plus-sized women that a company would have to invent words like “XL-ent” and deem photographs of them “impressive and inspiring” and even host this absurd beauty contest, pitting one against the other in the ultimate competition to be the face and body of a company which has not even recognized the demographic until this very recent and poorly constructed campaign and therefore finally be worthy of having a chance at clothes that fit (just like everybody else!)?? Well, the answer is shockingly simple and upsetting: the media determines, always has and perhaps always will unless people like Nancy Upton take an unwavering stance against it, what is sexy and what is not. What is beautiful and what is not. What is acceptable and what is not.  At first, when I saw the photos of Nancy Upton covered in ranch dressing, eating an entire chicken in a pool, devouring ice cream in lingerie on the floor, I was…disappointed. Aggravated that a beautiful, sensuous woman would be reduced to posing with food in sexual displays to prove a point about women who love to eat AND love their bodies. Women whose bodies are not positively or sexually represented in the media, but have to fight and struggle for flattering, well-made clothes. But then, I began to ponder her use of satire (which has indisputably garnered her well-deserved attention and started an important dialogue which would not have happened otherwise), and read the strong, powerful words she has consistently put forth to the public and…I am impressed. And empowered. And proud. I’m proud of any woman who is unapologetic with their own body and beauty and sexuality and can say “You know what, media? You think you can tell me that I’m not beautiful? Or that I’m only beautiful when or if you say I am? You can go eff yourself.” And is there really a more powerful message for any woman, of any shape and size, to embody?

(Images courtesy of DeathandTaxesMag and LingerieInsight)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joss CREAM PUFF permalink
    October 11, 2011 4:30 pm

    This gets even worse! So she went to meet with American Apparel and after her trip, they emailed her, saying–

    “Marsha and I were trying to remember what we even talked about, and amidst all of the late night fun and cream puffs (compounded by the fact that we couldn’t re-watch the video of the meeting), we can hardly remember what was said at all.”

    Those damn cream puffs! So I guess after a misguided moment of trying to embrace more average-sized people through their modeling campaign, they just gave up altogether after an unapologetic model was chosen. CREAM PUFFS!!!!!

  2. October 14, 2011 7:18 pm

    I hate how I have to adjust my eyes to look at these photographs because I have been so programmed to see rail thin models in fashion photography. It reminds me a lot of Lina Wertmuller

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