American Apparel has long been known in the fashion world as the “Hipster’s Haven”. Known for their provocative ad campaigns and boundary-pushing hemlines, this store has seen its fair share of controversy. Recently, American Apparel has come under fire again, when they decided to launch a contest for the “Next BIG Thing”. Play on words indeed, as this contest was looking for “fresh-faced, plus sized” models to be photographed in their new “plus size” line of clothing.
I keep “plus size” in quotation marks because the sizing that American Apparel has marketed as plus size is the size 12 range. In typical Canadian stores, sizes 0-14 are considered average. This sizing issue sparked controversy, with leading feminist blogs and advocates arguing that by making size 12 a “plus size” American Apparel was continuing to promote negative body images that pressured women to conform to a smaller size. On the flip side, some women embraced the fact that American Apparel was finally expanding its sizing (which, as its customers will know, is extremely small to begin with) to make it more accessible to an average size woman.
Unfortunately, the controversy did not end there. The contest that they ran was web-based, with “plus sized” models sending in photographs and allowing the online-public to vote on their winner. Dallas-based actress Nancy Upton felt that the wording used and the sizing issue was patronizing to women and decided to enter satirical photos into the competition. The photographs depicted Upton in seductive poses that incorporated food. These photographs went viral and online voters rallied around Upton, voting her the “Next BIG Thing”.
Despite the overwhelming support, American Apparel did not award Upton the prizes affiliated with the contest, with creative director Iris Alonzo stating that Upton, “discredit[ed] the positive intentions of our challenge.” Upton’s challenge of American Apparel has swept across the continent, with major online news outlets such as The Huffington Post and Today.com picking up the story.
And so readers, I put the question out to you. How do you feel about American Apparel’s choice to expand their sizing to include “plus sized” items? Do you think that they are reinforcing negative female body images or are they simply trying to be a more inclusive brand? Was their search for the “Next BIG Thing” well-intentioned or does its wording demean women who do not conform to their ideals?
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*All images via Google.