As we reported last month, American Apparel, the clothing store often associated with emaciated teens, launched its “Next BIG Thing” contest to find a model for a new line of plus-sized clothing. Many hopefuls entered, but the woman who actually won the vote won’t be featured in an AA ad any time soon because the retailer didn’t quite appreciate her sense of humor.
Nancy Upton, the woman who actually received the most votes in the Next BIG Thing contest, has been documenting the process on her tumblr page, including the photos she submitted to the competition featuring her chowing down on pie, chocolate syrup and other foods, and the shots of her posing like a roast pig, complete with apple in mouth and bed of lettuce.
“[I]f they had just suddenly start running ads with sexy plus-sized women and simply said, “Now available in sizes through 2XL,” the impact would have been huge (no pun intended, believe me) and VERY positive, I think,” Upton told Jezebel.com in a recent interview. “People would have said, “Wow, good for them! How progressive!” But instead, they used cutesy, tired euphemisms and this faux-chummy supportive tone that a lot of people found cheap and insulting. It smacked of that feeling when someone does something well or does a good deed and then nudges you and goes, “See what I did?”"
But even though American Apparel’s controversial grand poobah Dov Charney reportedly said “That’s crazy. I like that,” about Upton’s photos, the people who work for him weren’t as thrilled and eventually decided to go with models who had received fewer votes than Upton.
In a letter sent to Upton explaining their decision, an AA exec writes:
It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that “bootylicous” was too much for you to handle. While we may be a bit TOO inspired by BeyoncÃ©, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here. I wonder if you had taken just a moment to imagine that this campaign could actually be well intentioned, and that my team and I are not out to offend and insult women, would you have still behaved in the same way, mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there? Maybe you’ll find it interesting that in addition to simply responding to customer demand and feedback, when you’re a vertically-integrated company, actual jobs are created from new size additions. In this case, for the XL women who will model them, industrial workers that make them, retail employees that sell them and beyond. That’s the amazing reality of American Apparel’s business…
That said, we realize that we are in no way perfect and that we’re still learning. We want to do better or differently in many areas, and we are actively working on them every day. You’re literally witnessing a transparent, sincere, innovative, creative company go through puberty in the spotlight of modern media. It’s not easy!
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.
While we understand American Apparel’s instinct to not award the contest to someone who openly mocked it, the sheer fact that so many people voted for Upton should have clued them into the fact that maybe there was something off about the whole contest to begin with. And a company as supposedly iconoclastic as AA could have at least entertained the idea of turning Upton’s satire into something positive.
At the very least, the AA exec who penned this e-mail should have given a bit more thought before sending this letter not only to Upton, but to several media outlets. This is the letter you write and throw out before you send the actual e-mail.