Awesome Size 12 Model Wins Silly American Apparel Contest

Recently, Jill wrote here on Feministe about Nancy Upton, the awesome size 12 lady who entered a silly beauty contest from American Apparel by taking awesome pictures of herself in foody positions. (You can find pictures by clicking here, or pretty much anywhere all over the Internet at this point.)

Here’s the awesome part: Nancy won.

Even awesomer — if you share my arguably ironic, arguably hateful sense of humor — American Apparel refused to give her the victory. The company’s creative director sent an unbelievably huffy letter to Nancy and to a bunch of media outlets; the letter concludes thusly:

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.

Wow.

(You can measure your nerd cred by whether this reminds you of Hank, the Angry, Drunken Dwarf, who was an Internet hero back in 1998 when I was a young nerdling and the Internet was not yet cool. Hank won People’s “Most Beautiful People” contest with over ten times as many votes as the runner-up, at which point people finally started talking like this Internet might actually be a Real Phenomenon that maybe might be a little hard for those in power to control …. One might imagine that folks would have learned by now: these contests will routinely be hijacked by those of us too sarcastic, bitter, and vengeful to buy completely into your stupid “beautiful people” game. In other words, the majority. But I digress.)

Nancy’s got a pretty sweet roundup of the coverage over on her blog.

Additionally, a smart lady known as Autumn (who happens to be a gin-you-wine Feministe guest poster) wrote a pretty sweet post on her own blog in which she discusses the line that defines satire. Excerpt:

These provocative photos beg questions larger than I’m qualified to tackle: How much does the creator’s intent matter in art? If you have to know the background in order to spot the subversion, can it be effective? If the goal is to raise awareness of an issue and the only people who get the joke are already informed, have you succeeded in your goal?

… In interviews Upton is clear-minded, acknowledging both her detractors and supporters with grace, repeatedly insisting that she’s just aiming to be a part of the conversation—and she’s succeeding. (For the record, Upton seems pretty kick-ass, and has made it clear that even if American Apparel does actually approach her to model for them since she did, after all, win the contest, she’ll refuse.) But the method being used here too closely mimics the very thing that’s being critiqued. That’s how satire works, but in order for satire to be effective there needs to be an element of the ludicrous. The trouble Upton and Skloss ran into was that both American Apparel and the treatment of plus-size women are both already so ludicrous that nothing they could do could out-outrage their target.

(Let me just allow the philosophy-major, pretentious-assmonkey side of my personality to point y’all to the entire site that exists only and entirely to disambiguate the usage of the phrase “begging the question”. Linguists in the audience can now argue about whether we ought to be descriptive or prescriptive. I’m sorry, I had to point that out. Wait, I’m not sorry at all — no sorrier than Nancy Upton, anyway. And I digress.)

Sweetest of all is Nancy’s quick interview in the “Village Voice”, which is probably one of the reasons AA’s creative director got all upset about Nancy’s “accusations and assumptions”. Excerpt from Nancy’s testimony:

I, like many people, have a root dislike for American Apparel — the way their CEO [Dov Charney] behaves, their general attitude towards women. The way women are portrayed, the stories that models and salespeople have about the company.

If American Apparel was the Gap and they had run that contest, I wouldn’t have had [a negative] gut reaction. It comes from American Apparel’s history of treating women like a piece of meat. If I was an American Apparel customer in a store, and I had never heard of the company or Dov Charney, I’d probably be happy. [ed. note: Charney didn’t want to comment on this story and hadn’t heard of Upton. But he said of her idea, “That’s crazy; I like that.”]

A lot of people have expanded their plus sizes, but don’t see the need to seek approval for it.

Now, in comments, let’s argue chat about satire, intent, fatphobia, description vs prescription, etc. Or let’s just talk about our favorite desserts and how Nancy might use them in ever-more-inventive photo shoots. Personally my request to Nancy is this: I would be quite pleased if vegan desserts got a shoutout. They taste better anyways. And I think Jill is going on vacation soon and won’t have time to mock my veganism, ha!

(I swear I’m not usually this snippy. This post brought to you by painkillers.)

UPDATE: In a mad rush to not look like idiots, American Apparel has offered to fly Nancy out to observe what it’s like to work for the company. She accepts as long as she can write about it.

About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
This entry was posted in Advertising, Art, Beauty, Body image, Fashion, Fat, Media & Media Literacy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Awesome Size 12 Model Wins Silly American Apparel Contest

  1. LC says:

    I think we should just abandon “begging the question” and go with a better translation.

    Nancy seems deeply awesome.

  2. Autumn says:

    I have been loving how the story has been unfolding. Whatever intellectual quibblings I might have about her work as satire (thank you for the kind words, Clarisse), I think this has been an effective tool to get people to talk about American Apparel, and to also talk about attitudes toward plus-size clothing and the women who wear them, without just seeming reactionary. She has a rare opportunity to call out what a lot of people have been saying about AA for a long time, and she’s doing it with class and is staying on-point, and it’s pretty admirable. And there’s even breaking news that came out right after this ran: AA is flying Nancy out to their factories, under (her) condition that she can write about anything she sees. The plot thickens!

    (Also, I’m a diehard language descriptivist, which, since my trade is copy editing, means I’m either radical, or bad at my job, u choose. That said, I didn’t know the proper use of “beg the question” and now I have to test how diehard I really am. Stay tuned!)

    (And ALSO also: blueberry kanten with almond cream would probably look great on Nancy.)

  3. A.) Better to be descriptive.
    B.) Vegan desserts do not taste better.
    C.) Nancy is cool.

  4. Nahida says:

    Nancy is my FAVORITE PERSON.

  5. Fat Steve says:

    I would have loved Nancy to win and, Clarisse, thanks for the memories of Hank.

    The best way for me to contribute to this thread is by linking to my tumbler which contains a pic of the sexiest macarons in history. (Well, the best I have ever made…)
    http://www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/stuwhoknew

    P.S. Ignore the pic of the very unsexy guy below that (it’s me)

  6. Fat Steve, it seems like you’re probably not a spammer, so feel free to re-post your comment with a link that works.

  7. Vegan desserts DO taste better. And you know what tastes best of all? THE FEELING OF DOING THE RIGHT THING.

    ok, that’s all from me for now ….

  8. Kristen J. says:

    Clarisse Thorn: Vegan desserts DO taste better. And you know what tastes best of all? THE FEELING OF DOING THE RIGHT THING.ok, that’s all from me for now ….

    It’s not that the dessert tastes better, its just that its spiced with smug superiority. ;)

    But I did make this really awesome vegan chocolate torte about two hours ago. Hopefully it will set before our friends get here!

  9. Bridget says:

    I think Nancy is as awesome as a vegan dessert. Which is to say, quite awesome :)

  10. Tori says:

    But even if Nancy models the vegan desserts, does that actually mean they will be available in my size?

    Erm, um.

    Is it worth mentioning that this to-do (with special but not sole attention to the pushback from American Apparel) is with regard to sizes that a lot of stores and people wouldn’t even consider plus-size?

    What happens when my larger-than-size-14 ass wants to wear pie panties? :P

  11. Kristen J.: It’s not that the dessert tastes better, its just that its spiced with smug superiority. ;)

    Exactly. And we feminists are already so familiar with this phenomenon ….

  12. Li says:

    On vegan deserts, do you know what I found out was vegan the other day? Turkish delight. Which may have led to me eating an obscene amount of it in celebration…

  13. Medea says:

    Judging from that email, Dov is not the only unprofessional person at American Apparel.

  14. scrumby says:

    Clarisse Thorn:
    Vegan desserts DO taste better.And you know what tastes best of all?THE FEELING OF DOING THE RIGHT THING.

    So much effort. I just keep a jar of ground debatable moral superiority in my cupboard for when my casserole needs that extra touch of smug.

  15. Fat Steve says:

    Clarisse Thorn:
    Fat Steve, it seems like you’re probably not a spammer, so feel free to re-post your comment with a link that works.

    Sorry, just wanted to share some baked goods I made. I didn’t realize it was the link aspect of it causing it to be kicked back! Does the one up at #3 work? if not, it’s http://www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/stuwhoknew

  16. PrettyAmiable says:

    “UPDATE: In a mad rush to not look like idiots, American Apparel has offered to fly Nancy out to observe what it’s like to work for the company. She accepts as long as she can write about it.”

    I don’t get this response. What part of Upton’s critique really had to deal with working conditions at American Apparel?

  17. Fat Steve says:

    Oh, and Clarisse this may not be the right place, but, how are you? The last post I remember reading from your blog detailed your cycling accident.

    P.S. I have ALWAYS worn my helmet since reading it (before that I was 50/50.)

  18. Sara says:

    I agree with Autumn’s description of satire-in-general, but I disagree that this particular instance doesn’t contain “an element of the ludicrous.” It might be different if it was simply an ad made by an agency, but as a self-submitted entry in a beauty contest, Upton’s work is clearly recognizable as a joke (even without her own commentary on it). For example, I think it is safe to say that very few people would describe ranch dressing in a bathtub as “beautiful” without at least a hint of irony.

    (That said, I’ll be the first to say that the line between satire and genuine weirdness can sometimes be so hard to find that it isn’t even worth looking. Case in point, is Peggy Miller of objectiveministries.org/kidz/ aware that the audience-submitted drawings are mostly satirical? I taught a half-semester discussion course on satire and my students were unable to resolve this one.)

  19. Sara says:

    [P.S. – A trigger warning should be issued for some of the drawings at the URL I posted.]

  20. llama says:

    “UPDATE: In a mad rush to not look like idiots, American Apparel has offered to fly Nancy out to observe what it’s like to work for the company.”

    They still look like idiots.

  21. Thanks for asking. I’m on the mend, still not terribly mobile, but feeling much better. My draft eBook (Confessions Of A Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men) is in consent checks, so I’ll resume posting to my blog soon.

  22. Eric says:

    As an admittedly part time mysogynist and chauvanist, I just want to say that I wish more women both let themselves look like this, and were this proud of the fact that they do. It really isn’t healthy to obsess over being a toothpick, especially if you haven’t got the genetics for it.

    Ladies, take a page from Nancy’s book, and let yourself be you, because you’re already worthwhile.

  23. victoria says:

    @Sara, i’m fairly sure the Objective Ministries website is a very elaborate, very well done parody site, designed by people very well versed in evangelical/fundamentalist xian subcultures. One tip off: i can’t think of any actual xian org that would sell a “Baby Jesus anti-fornication thong” on its cafe press site.

  24. MH says:

    I love this post so much, if only for the fact that it has both fat people and veganism in it, a combination that much of the world seems to refuse to believe exists.

  25. Kristen J. says:

    Clarisse Thorn: Thanks for asking. I’m on the mend, still not terribly mobile, but feeling much better. My draft eBook (Confessions Of A Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men) is in consent checks, so I’ll resume posting to my blog soon.

    Oh my goodness! Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better.

    For deliciousness we had tofu poke and “hawaiian” tempeh kabobs for dinner…which was surprisingly good. M’s veg dinners are usually okay but nothing to write home about. These were actually delicious.

  26. Ashley says:

    Eric, you are also worthwhile! Keep your head up! I’m sure there are women who find you very attractive!

  27. LC says:

    Clarisse Thorn: Thanks for asking. I’m on the mend, still not terribly mobile, but feeling much better.

    Glad you are on the mend, and looking forward to the book.

  28. Anonymouse says:

    Well, that’s an obvious attempt to get some good publicity out of Nancy. Her critique had nothing to do with the working conditions at AA. And if their factory is truly as they claim it is, she wouldn’t have anything negative to say about it. Pretty transparent ploy to co-opt a critical voice and then say “see, even people who hate us think our labor policies are great!” Frankly, I wouldn’t go if I were her. But she’s been so on-point in her critique, I’m curious to see how this plays out.

  29. DoublyLinkedLists says:

    “Vegan desserts taste better”

    This is the most unbelievable statement in this article. Because it’s one thing to be like “I can make a good dessert without butter”, but its a whole ‘nother thing to be like “dessert is better without butter”. Because you can’t make puff pastry without butter.

  30. Now that I have been thoroughly called out for my ridiculous statement about vegan desserts and the absurd self-righteousness that I showed while making it, I will note that I said those things in an attempt to highlight the ridiculous anti-vegan and anti-animal rights sentiments that occasionally appear on this blog. Thank you.

  31. PrettyAmiable says:

    Is there a mass-produced vegan unsalted margarine? That is something I’ve had trouble with when trying to convert baking recipes to vegan styles. I also frankly never understood salted butter. If I wanted my butter salted, I would salt it my goddamned self.

  32. Li says:

    DoublyLinkedLists:
    “Vegan desserts taste better”

    This is the most unbelievable statement in this article. Because it’s one thing to be like “I can make a good dessert without butter”, but its a whole ‘nother thing to be like “dessert is better without butter”. Because you can’t make puff pastry without butter.

    Oh really?

  33. DoublyLinkedLists says:

    Margarine is no subsitute.

  34. Fat Steve says:

    Clarisse Thorn: Thanks for asking. I’m on the mend, still not terribly mobile, but feeling much better.

    Good to hear…and though I’m sure we all wish you were 100% healed, it’s nice to know the painkillers you mentioned aren’t being taken recreationally ;)

  35. Tori says:

    DoublyLinkedLists:
    Margarine is no subsitute.

    Well, maybe if butter makes one shit blood.

  36. DoublyLinkedLists says:

    Well yes. In that case, margarine would have to do. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with any sort of real lactose intolerance. Still though, it doesn’t stop being far more delicious.

  37. Brandy says:

    PrettyAmiable:
    Is there a mass-produced vegan unsalted margarine? That is something I’ve had trouble with when trying to convert baking recipes to vegan styles. I also frankly never understood salted butter. If I wanted my butter salted, I would salt it my goddamned self.

    Hmm, I wonder if Earth Balance has an unsalted variety? I have only used salted margarine, but then I’ll leave out (or reduce) the salt that the recipe calls for.

  38. Bridget says:

    Interestingly, Pepperidge Farm’s frozen puff pastry also happens to be vegan. Not at all healthy, but vegan.

  39. MH says:

    Fleishmann’s makes a widely available kosher margarine which is vegan except for the vitamin D, which is lanolin-derived. If the vitamin D is a concern, I would just use Becel Vegan and reduce the recipe’s other added salt by a little.

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