American Apparel and its big fat controversy

A competition led by hipster fashion house American Apparel to find America’s “next big thing”- that curveous, and frankly much needed, plus-size model has ended on a sour note as the winner of the competition, a Miss Nancy Upton, was disqualified.

The reason why? Nancy Upton apparently did not take the competition with the right tone, and thus failed to exemplify the “idea of beauty inside and out” because her photos mocked the “positive intentions” of the clothing line. In other words, American Apparel, whose clothes, I hasten to add, are known for their only-looks-good-on-skinny tailoring and over-priced T-shirts; have taken offence to the size-12 Dallas student. A controversy too big to handle.

At the start of the competition, Upton had taken protest with the nature of the XLent model hunt, which she viewed as tacky and condescending– in my opinion understandably, given that search asked for contestants to send in “photos of you and your junk to back it up”.. your what?!! As a result, Upton embarked on photographing herself in a series of ranchy and satirical photos. As she explained “I took that tone of theirs—’Hey fat people, you can play too’—and used it as an inspiration for my photos”- which she achieved to great effect, with Upton shown pouring chocolate syrup into her mouth, and gorging her face with chicken in a pool while gazing seductively into the camera. Therefore more or less offering a two-finger salute to the clothing line and diffusing the line between being sexy and being a food lover. And boy did the company react.

Below are some of Upton’s controversial photos, with more available on her blog

American Apparel were less than amused by Upton’s statement photos and retorted that being ‘bootylicous’ was too much for Upton to handle- miaowww, whilst refusing to grant her a contract. While they did send her a long letter explaining their concerns, and Upton herself admits that the affair did end cordially, I think the whole thing highlights the power of the brand over an individual’s autonomy and right to free speech– or this case photos; with American Apparel taking themselves far too seriously and also being naive about how best to deal with a sensitive issue like weight and the image-obsessed modelling industry. With a pinch of salt, I accept that American Apparel may have established the plus-size model search with the best of intentions, but I think they should have been more prepared with any subsequent backlash, particularly when empowering the public with the right to choose to winner; and with this ‘public’ being the buying audience to American Apparel clothing, I think that the retailer would be sensible to respect their decision.

But what do you think? Should Nancy have been crowned as the American Apparel plus-size girl? Let your thoughts be known in my poll.


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