A few years ago, one of my friends posted a rant about American Apparel, a US-based clothing company that based on its window displays sells enough lycra and spandex to make several 1980s workout videos. Before I clicked on it, I thought his rant was going to be about how ugly American Apparel’s clothing was. Every time I walked past that store on my way to work, my thought was, “Who wears this?” Instead, he, being a bit more knowledgeable about the chain than I was, was ranting about the company’s sexual politics. Unbeknownst to me, the founder of the company Dov Charney was infamous for sexually harrassing his employees and coming to board meetings wearing nothing but a sock. There had been several sexual harassment cases brought against him, and teens who worked at the store had reported a climate in which women were constantly devalued and reduced to their status as sexual objects. As a result of these stories, feminists had lamented the existence and popularity of the chain for years. The fact that they stocked only the smallest of sizes added to their discomfort with the store’s popularity. My friend had read yet another article about the horrendous sexual climate of the company and had decided to advertise his anger on Facebook. Eventually, however, the news surrounding American Apparel calmed down.
Fast forward two years and American Apparel is back in the news. This time, they have announced their intention to expand their plus-size clothing options. Traditionally, American Apparel clothing sizes have maxed out at 8/10. That means that I, at 5’7” and weighing 138 pounds, am almost the heaviest girl who can shop at American Apparel. Now, however, they are going to expand the number of styles they offer in L and XL. To celebrate the launch of the new clothing sizes, American Apparel announced a contest for bootylicious girls who needed extra wiggle room. It invited women to send in pictures of themselves. Presumably, the girls whose pictures received the most votes on their website would win.
One woman sent in pictures making fun of the ad campaign. Her pictures showed her covering herself in chocolate sauce, eating chicken wings while in a swimsuit, and generally, stuffing her face with food. She received the most votes, but American Apparel has announced that she will not win the contest or appear in any of its advertisements.
The coverage has centered on the implications of the campaign on how women view their bodies and how American Apparel views women. American Apparel’s ad campaign suggests that any woman over a size 8 is overweight and plus size. The company celebrates thinness and even as it tries to expand its market to include plus size women, it subtly or perhaps not so subtly depending on whom you ask mocks the very women its trying to include.
The feminist blog Jezebel has done an excellent job covering the story and mocking American Apparel so I point you to their website. The links below are some of their best articles on the debacle. I should warn you, however, that Jezebel and its readers tend not to mind their language, so if you mind that sorta thing, be forewarned:
To see some women try on American Apparel clothing and the horrible things it does to their bodies: http://jezebel.com/341625/american-apparel-will-make-you-look-like-a-fat-hooker
Announcement of American Apparel Contest: http://jezebel.com/5834270/american-apparel-introduces-size-xl-holds-search-for-booty+ful-models
American Apparel’s letter refusing to name contestant who mocked them as the winner: http://jezebel.com/5840312/american-apparel-refuses-to-recognize-rightful-plus+size-contest-winner?popular=true