American Apparel's Next BIG Public Relations Catastrophe

Anyone for pie?
Publish date:
September 15, 2011
plus sizes, sexism, American Apparel, nancy upton, ranch-dressing baths

Have you been keeping up with American Apparel’s recent “plus size” shenanigans? Just in case you haven’t, I’ll break it down: American Apparel recently held a contest to promote their oh-so-radical decision to start making a limited number of ladies’ items in an XL. Yes, an XL, which would be slightly larger than an L, but still far too small for my fat ass.

It was, of course, a modeling contest, inviting women of perfectly average size to submit pictures and be voted on in hopes of having their day in the AA spotlight. Because American Apparel is invested in a certain fiction about their “real people” models, I guess this is how they have to roll.

They called the contest The Next BIG Thing (caps in original) and used the word “booty-ful”. Yup.Now, I’m not going to dis the ladies who entered and took this business seriously. You rock on with your boundary-busting ways, serious entrants! But given American Apparel’s history (not to mention superskeeze Dov Charney's masturbation habits as famously chronicled by Claudine Ko in Jane magazine), no one can be blamed for wanting to take the piss out of this company, just a little bit.

Fortunately, a woman named Nancy Upton was unsatisfied with merely rolling her eyes like the rest of us do, and took action. She entered the contest with a series of photographs featuring her drinking chocolate syrup and bathing in ranch dressing, her intention to point out the absurdity of the stereotypes levied at anyone with a body with a noticeable amount of flesh on it.

The photos are brilliant, and thought-provoking, and would be equally fascinating discussion prompts even if they weren’t associated with American Apparel’s contest. Upton got quite a bit of attention for them, so it’s little surprise that she won the contest, as determined by votes.

It’s also little surprise that American Apparel has subsequently sent her a bizarrely defensive letter explaining why she won’t be getting the “prize," and flat-out scolding Upton, schoolmarm style, for daring to question their good intentions.

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?

Because, as we all know, it is impossible for people to be offended if you did not intend to offend them. The Frisky has the whole letter here, and you can check out Nancy’s Tumblr -- which has all the food-lovin'-fatty photos in their hilarious glory -- here.