"American Apparel ads offensive, not sexy"
Published in the St. Edward's University Hilltop Views, Volume 25, Issue 4, Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
Presented in its entirety EXCLUSIVELY on SEU-Feminist!
By Lucinda Indian and Anna Whitney
Prominently displayed on page two of The Austin Chronicle, the pinnacle of capitalist sexual objectification in the form of obscenely bare and flashy pubescent flesh begins to make our blood boil. A young girl is wearing American Apparel’s nylon on her knees, forearms resting on the floor, tongue suggestively pointed toward a puddle of spilled milk, the image forever imprinted on our brains. Preying on younger and younger women, pop culture has gone wild. The subjugation of women through advertising permeates all levels of society. Marketing attempts to solidify women’s role as mere eye candy. Why do we allow the constant devaluation of our bodies by the media to continue unabated? Women, we must lift our voices and redefine what is acceptable and what is appallingly offensive.
What does advertising tell us about how to act and how to be attractive? At a subconscious level, we learn what society wants from us and how to behave from those seemingly innocuous images. The pornographic positions and bedtime faces of the models used by American Apparel reconfirm to young women that what we look like is more important than who we are. By portraying their models as meek, passive, and vacant, American Apparel encourages an unengaged, glossy-eyed, waifish stereotype. How much money would they lose if they actually represented women as strong, courageous, and empowered??
After reading Joelle Pearson’s account of “American Apparel ads sexy, not exploitative” published Dec. 3, 2008 in the Hilltop Views, the collective jaw-drop of every self-respecting woman was audible at the description of American Apparel’s models as “short, chubby, freckled, oily, unshaven, uncut, and untouched.” No airbrushing is necessary when the models are already conventionally gorgeous regardless. Pearson says she is proud we can display ourselves as American Apparel models do, but as women should we even aspire to look this way?
American Apparel gained status for being progressive by using real employees as models and being hip to environmental causes and labor laws. The CEO, Dov Charney, uses a group of untrained and ethnically diverse people as models for his advertisements. This Los Angeles-based company does not use sweatshop labor and uses its storefronts to promote various social causes such as immigration reform. Although there have been some disputes over union-busting, Charney pays his employees almost twice the minimum wage on average and gives them health benefits. And their clothes are comfortable, too.
For these reasons, we want to love American Apparel.
But it is Charney and his mindset that are the real problem. Frequently ambling about the office in nothing but his underwear, he uses sexually explicit language, brags that he has slept with numerous young, subordinate employees, photographs scantily clad women, and claims that all of this promotes an innovative, creative work environment centered around freedom of expression. We really want to believe that American Apparel advertisements are just “sexy” as Pearson claims, instead of demeaning, soft-core pornographic objectifications.
But we cannot. From print advertisements, billboards, and photos on the online store, everything seems to be covered in “a thick coat of demoralizing sleaze,” as feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon.net puts it. Perhaps it is that Charney’s employees find it difficult to reject his sexual advances when their jobs are at stake. Or because Charney has been quoted as saying that “women initiate most domestic violence... and this has made a victim culture out of women.” Maybe he spouts this gibberish to rationalize the five sexual harassment cases that he has been charged with. Charney’s obvious misogynistic attitude directly translates to the photographs that American Apparel uses as advertisements, some of which he takes himself. Under the guise of promoting sexual liberation, Charney has been able to objectify women in a way that makes people think it is okay, and that is the real crime.
Our closets may not be strangers to their label but we cannot sit idly by while American Apparel perpetuates overtly sexual stereotypes of women. If American Apparel wants self-respecting women to stay their customers, they should listen when we denounce their advertisements for objectifying women’s bodies. Until then, we will refuse to buy into the idea that we are walking hangers for garish garments.