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American Apparel: v-necks and sexual exploitation

As the media coverage dies down regarding American Apparel’s knack for remarkably misogynistic and overtly sexual advertising (check out Nancy Upton’s hilarious/courageous spoof), and CEO Dov Charney’s nefarious past, the company reports an increase in net sales for the first quarter in 2013.

This is a remarkable turnaround for the company who faced potential bankruptcy after years of losses. With the company’s resurgence, it is important for us to continue to question American Apparel’s consistently misogynistic advertising tactics and their affects on young consumers. In this spirit, I have written a letter to the company, and urge you all to do the same.

Dear American Apparel,

My friends wear your clothes. My niece, who is thirteen, wants to wear your clothes. I have a V-neck my aunt gave me, and you’re totally right — it is soft. Your neon colors, retro styles, worn-but-never-actually-worn clothes are appealing to young mustachioed men and waif-ish women across America.

However beautifully filtered and voyeuristically inviting your ads are, I have a problem with the underage nipples gracing nearly every image. I really do.

I generally don’t have objections to nudity in your ads, although much of it could easily (and has) been deemed pornographic. But when it comes to underage women sporting sheer tank tops or lying spread eagle on a tribal print comforter, it begins to make me wonder what affect your messages might have—on me, on my peers, and on my niece.

It seems like you’ve been pushing the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope. Many of your ads are what I might like porn to be more like — I do appreciate your ad’s occasional pubic hair, natural makeup, ethnic variation, and at least some range in sizes — but your ads aren’t porn, your ads are ads.

Ads to get us to buy things, and these things look a lot like underage women.

The focal points aren’t the material products; they are nipples, butts, and crotches. I know you’ve heard this from the Advertising Standard Authority, but I thought it might be nice to hear it from your target audience: a white, physically able, 22-year-old, who loves a soft tank top and the occasional legging.

The objectification and weird segmenting of women’s bodies needs to go: a body suit and thigh-highs could perhaps show a whole body and not just a series of crotch/ass shots. And maybe the girls wearing your “Easy Jeans” could also wear a shirt? I actually tried to find a specific shirt to mention, but it was taking way too long to find one that is not sheer.

It is clear that your brand is interested in being portrayed as socially aware, but why not socially aware with regard to your representation of women (some underage) as sexual objects? How can you not see this is hypocritical? Maybe, just maybe, you could oust the alleged sexually harassing, seemingly foul CEO, Dov Charney.

Mr. Charney’s indiscretions are growing more visible and more widely offensive; his alleged transgressions including anti-Semitic remarks, gay slurs, choking/rubbing dirt in a former employee’s face, and sexual harassment are not invisible to your market. Eventually, those attracted to the brand because of its socially progressive reforms (labor regulations and self-proclaimed “sweatshop free”) will be repelled by news about your CEO. We can read. We have values, and we have spending power.

You claim your ads have a certain “un-airbrushed aesthetic,” which sounds like exactly what the advertising world needs.

Unfortunately, the un-airbrushed aesthetic often provides a creepy, older-dude-with-Instagram kind of vibe; which is all good and well, without the underage nipples, and cracks, and ribcages, and pubic mounds. Enough to make most people — women and men — stop buying your product.

Please cut down on the underage nipples, objectification of women, and rape glamorization. You can still be edgy and hip and attractive and not pornographic. Or hey, maybe you want to stop selling V-necks and leggings and just start making porn.

Thank you for your time,

Concerned Potential-Customer

Ann Laudick is a recent graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Film and Media Studies. She is particularly interested in educating youth about the importance of media literacy to challenge problematic portrayals of women and sexuality. 

3 thoughts on “American Apparel: v-necks and sexual exploitation

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  1. I agree 100%. Why do you feel the need to advertise with barely any clothing on? isn’t the point of your ad to show what you are selling, clothes? So i would think you would want as much of your product on the model as possible. It is pretty sad if the only way you can draw customers is by posting advertisements with half naked people on it.

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