Obesity,Diets#Eating Disorders#Bullying#Fat Acceptance#Please Share
It started off so innocent and a little bit pun crazy.
Back at the end of August, American Aparrel, realizing they could start making a lot more money if they sold XL clothing, launched “The Next Big Thing” contest in search of a plus-sized models to wear their expanding line. Basically sizes 12 and 14.
That’s when things started to get interesting.
The American Apparel Web site called for ladies with more “junk” in their trunk in a way that we’ll politely call semi-offensive:
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!
Apparently, American Apparel was not ready for one model’s jelly. Nancy Upton, a 24-year-old Dallas actress, decided to enter the competition. Writing in her bio, “I’m a size 12 and I just can’t stop eating,” Nancy submitted “sexy” photos of herself eating turkey and pie, slathered in chocolate syrup and ranch dressing and even with an apple in her mouth on top of a table and a bed of lettuce like a Thanksgiving pig. Voters thought Nancy was “XLent” and she garnered the #1 spot hands down. Only one problem: Nancy entered the contest as a joke and never intended on winning.
In an article for The Daily Beast, titled “My Big, Fat Photo Spoof,” Nancy explained her motives .
“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 it spoke to plus-sized women like they were starry-eyed 16-year-olds from Kansas whose dream, obviously, was to hop a bus to L.A. to make it big in fashion. 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, sassy friend to fat chicks. 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. The company was co-opting the mantra of plus-size empowerment and glazing it with its unmistakable brand of female objectification.”
American Aparrel was not amused and decided to disqualify and strip Nancy of her crown, reminding her that in America votes don’t really matter. On Wednesday, September 13th, AA’s Creative Director Iris Alonzo wrote a scathing email to Nancy. Nancy posted the letter on her Tumblr, ExtraWiggleRoom tweeting “I started a tumblr about how offensive this American Apparel contest is/as an excuse to cover myself in dressing.” The letter read as follows:
Dear Nancy Upton,
My name is Iris Alonzo and I am a Creative Director at American Apparel. Along with four other women, I conceived of the Next BIG Thing campaign for American Apparel. Firstly, we are very sorry that we offended you. 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. We would also like to assure you that no one is getting fired over your stunt, as you expressed concern about in a recent interview. We are fortunate to have a great boss who trusts and believes in our instincts and ideas, and we are still very excited about all of our Next BIG Things and looking forward to meeting our new XL brand ambassadors.
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. 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? Maybe you’ll find it interesting that in addition to simply responding to customer demand and feedback, when you’re a vertically-integrated company, actual jobs are created from new size additions. In this case, for the XL women who will model them, industrial workers that make them, retail employees that sell them and beyond. That’s the amazing reality of American Apparel’s business.
Though I could spend hours responding to your accusations and assumptions, this isn’t the appropriate forum for that, so I will only briefly address a few issues here. In regards to April Flores’ “that’s not our demographic” experience, I don’t recall the name of the confused employee credited with saying that, but he or she was sadly uninformed, and our company certainly does not endorse their statement. For as long as I can remember, we have offered sizes up to 3XL in our basic styles, and as far as adding larger sizes to the rest of our line is concerned, if there is the demand and manufacturing power to support it, we’re always game. There are thousands of brands in the market who have no intention of supporting natural—and completely normal—full-figured women, and American Apparel is making a conscious effort to change that, both with our models and our line. If every brand that tried to do this was met with such negative press, we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.
In the past, American Apparel has been targeted for various reasons, many times by journalists who weren’t willing to go the extra mile to even visit the factory or meet the people in charge. Dov [Charney] is a great executive director and American Industrialist, but there are hundreds of other decision-makers in our company, over half of whom are women. I suppose you have read a few too many negative pieces about us that have helped to form your opinion of who we are and what we stand for, and perhaps this has clouded your ability to give us a chance. I get it. I read some of it too. As a creative who isn’t always the most tactful and tends to stay away from the limelight, maybe I haven’t spoken up as much as I should have over the past 8 years that I’ve worked at American Apparel. Perhaps I could have shed some light on some issues that have been left cloudy over the years. However, sensational media will always need something to latch on to and success, spandex and individuality (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets. And who knows – maybe the PR ups and downs are all part of our DNA as a company. What I do know is that after all the years I have been working for this company I can wholeheartedly say that American Apparel is an amazing and inspiring place to work. 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. We are the largest sewing factory in North America, after all…10,000 jobs is nothing to sniff at. A lot of people would be very sad if this company wasn’t around.
That said, we realize that we are in no way perfect and that we’re still learning. We want to do better or differently in many areas, and we are actively working on them every day. You’re literally witnessing a transparent, sincere, innovative, creative company go through puberty in the spotlight of modern media. It’s not easy!
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.
Please feel free to contact me directly anytime. If you want to know the real scoop about our company before writing a story, I’ve got it (or if I don’t, I can put you in touch with the person that does!).
Best of luck,
Less than 72 hours after that letter was sent, AA was singing a different tune and like Nancy did in one of her entry photos, the company was eating pie, albeit theirs was an unsavory humble flavor. Iris reached out to Nancy again Friday morning, September 16th, (after some extremely bad press) and offered to fly Nancy and her photographer, Shannon Skloss, to Los Angeles for a company tour. Nancy agreed as long as she could “write about what she saw.”
“When you take a picture of yourself covered in ranch dressing you don’t expect it to end up on CNN,” Nancy said to the International Business Times about the controversy that has made headlines around the world. “People say there’s no such thing as bad press, right? I definitely don’t…feel bad that it’s giving them press. I feel like it doesn’t matter. People will form their own opinions about it.”
Check out Nancy’s larger than life photo shoot below (wait, is the term “larger than life” politically correct?), we mean really, really great.
This is a Fan Club Page for Nancy Upton, and I do hope you find time to share it.