The AA Controversy

Any “scene”, “indie”, or “hipster” kid out there lives and dies by the American Apparel clothing line.   American Apparel has carved out a niche for themselves by selling streamlined basics with creative twists and have since expanded to include everything from lame leggings to neon headbands to lacey full  body leotards.  Recently though, the company has come under attack for its sexualized ad campaigns and their CEO’s loose behavior toward employees.

AA has long claimed that they choose “the girl next door” to star in their ad campaigns because she is plain and accessible.  It is fairly easy to see how AA can make this claim: the girls are attractive, they feature a wide variety of body types, and most you could easily imagine tossing a football with or catching a movie matinée.  But what is different between these girls and your other girl next door are the provocative ads they star in, the use of their bodies to sell the clothes.

An intriguing article by Gender Across Borders discussed how while American Apparel’s claims to be portraying the “girl next door” through their different campaigns, the sexualized ad campaigns actually does more harm to women because it says that a woman should be “everyday and hypersexual at the same time.”  Which of course, is NOT the girl next door.  She also points out that while the models featured are certainly not the typical model type, they are all able bodied, typically slim women.  The author points to a collaboration project between a photog and model entitled “American Able” which features a model with different body proportions in similar poses and outfits to those in a typical AA ad.  The purpose of these ads are to:

‘…through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media

Too often, the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media goes unexamined, consumed en masse by the public. However, this imagery has real, oppressive effects on people who are continuously ‘othered’ by society. The model, Jes Sachse, and I intend to reveal these stories by placing her in a position where women with disabilities are typically excluded.”

I recently earned my Master of Social Work and to say that I am a firm believer in human rights as well as dignity and worth of persons and equal opportunities and representation is an understatement.  And to say I love this ad is also an understatement.  This issue of using sex to sell clothes, the “girl next door” image, and a push to use more diverse body types seems to piggy back on the recent hype about “unretouched” or “make-up free!” cover shoots that are covering the recent mags.  Not to mention the inundation of coverage using plus size models (as if putting one or two size 4 girls qualifies for plus size or changes anyone’s perception of what fashion portrays).

I tend to come down between these issues.  When I look at a fashion magazine, I know I am looking at a magazine.  I expect to see a certain kind of look.  When a magazine claims to have pictures of Jessica Simpson with “no makeup!” I almost don’t want to look at it.  Yes, I understand, she’s a regular person just like me.  But she’s paid to look good.  I, on the other hand, am not.  Therefore, when I look at her, I want to see her looking good.  Superficial?  Maybe.  BUT, on the other side, I also clearly see the need for the fashion industry to quit harping on girls being a size 00 or with perfect features to be pretty.  My husband and I had the following conversation:

him: I think that 99.9% of the world’s people are attractive.

me: are you serious?  that is so not true.

him: Yes it is.  Think about it.  Everyone is attractive in their own way to someone.

And just who is the social work major?  But he really made me stop and think.  Women everywhere are beautiful.  Not just the woman with the skinny toned arms, or the one that is 5’10.  But the one that is 4’11 or the one that talks with an accent.  The one with dark skin is gorgeous and the one with a nose like Barbara Streisand is striking.  Jes from the American Able ads is gorgeous because as someone from the comments said so well, she IS sexy.  And it is due to her confidence in herself.  Just look at the ad pictures again.  She is having FUN.  And I love her fierce poses in the one titled “Tight.”  America’s Next Top Model anyone?

I don’t think that the fashion industry will ever completely use “plus size” women or incorporate women of all proportions or body types into their work.  But it’s ads like the American Able that can help point out the injustices and afront to human dignity that happens all the time.  I just hope that every girl can be like Jes, full of confidence in who they are, having fun with life, and of course rocking a full body black leotard every now and again.

What do you think about all of the recent controversy surrounding AA?  What about mags overusing the “no makeup!” or “unretouched” slogans?  Do you wish the industry someone included more diverse body types?  Or is fashion just fashion and that’s how it is?  Do tell…

Images courtesy of business of fashionfashion frame.


2 thoughts on “The AA Controversy

  1. I’ve been reading articles on AA all day, and the conclusion I’ve come to is… well, sure they hypersexualize women, but doesn’t everyone else? I flip open my latest issue of Vogue or Harper’s and I see the exact same thing. I’m not saying that it’s right, I’m just saying that it seems like AA gets picked on a lot more than the others. Even if you’re going to call them out for false advertising, you have to call out every magazine that calls a size 8 “plus sized”. Don’t get me wrong though — I see your point, and I agree to an extent.

  2. I think American Apparel gets picked on more because of their repeated claims that they use the girl next door. And probably because they are more accessible than accusing Vogue. I actually really like American Apparel. But I do think that the hype of no make up, using plus size models, etc has just gotten out of control. Everyone has to prove themselves that they can use “average” girls or celebs with no make up, while also promoting sex and skinny girls to sell clothes and brands. All I want to see in magazines is good editorials, creative clothes, and good styling. If it’s on a plus size model, that’s fine, but I don’t see the need to constantly advertise it.

    Thanks for your comment!

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