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.
(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.