The (On-going) Saga of Nancy Upton & American Apparel

I’ve been avidly following the saga of American Apparel’s “plus-size” model competition, and the entry of a fantastic woman named Nancy Upton, but previously chose not to add to the many, many blogs about it. Until now.

Quick refresher: American Apparel, which makes skimpy clothing for very small people who like to pose naked, decided to launch their new size XL (extra large, guys! That means fat people are OK now!) with a model-scouting competition.  Their call for models was… less than desirable:

Think you are the Next BIG Thing?
Calling curvy ladies everywhere! Our best-selling Disco Pant (and around 10 other sexy styles) are now available in size XL, for those of us who need a little extra wiggle room where it counts. We’re looking for fresh faces (and curvaceous bods) to fill these babies out. If you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next XLent model, send us photos of you and your junk to back it up.

Just send us two recent photographs of yourself, one that clearly shows your face and one of your body. We’ll select a winner to be flown out to our Los Angeles headquarters to star in your own bootylicious photoshoot. Runners up will win an enviable assortment of our favorite new styles in XL!

Show us what you’re workin’ with!

Note that, yes,  it is always written as the Next BIG Thing. BIG girls. BIG. (and please bear in mind that American Apparel size XL is still BLOODY TINY) And, generally, American Apparel is known for being sexist, misogynist and sizist. All around ick.

Nancy Upton, amused by the call for models, decided to do a humorous photoshoot with a photographer friend and enter the contest in jest, as a statement about American Apparel’s back-handed treatment of us fatties. Her photos were hilarious and awesome, and as the contest was based on voting, Upton won by a landslide.

However, Nancy will not be the next American Apparel XL brand ambassador. Nancy received a letter from AA’s Creative Director that was… colorful, to say the least. This is where I decided to Say Something. You can read the letter in full here, but these are my favorite bits:

Along with four other women, I conceived of the Next BIG Thing campaign for American Apparel.

Translation: women came up with this, so it can’t be misogynist!

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 Beyoncé, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here.

Translation: I think I’m an awesome copywriter, you bitter fat person. You can’t take a joke. We’re not “serious” around here — sexual harassment, misogyny and making fun of fat girls (especially when our XL range isn’t actually for fat people) is A-OK!

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?

Translation: Won’t you think of all the poor fat girls who desperately want us to vindicate their existence by making them pose half naked in our adverts? Again, I’m a WOMAN, so I can’t possibly be misogynist! I have NO PROBLEM with reducing myself to a series of body parts or the Male Gaze, so clearly YOU are the dumb, wet blanket.

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.

Translation: The hipsters love this shit. And the lawyers/PR team made me include it.

There are thousands of brands in the market who have no intention of supporting natural – and completely normal – full-figured women, and American Apparel is making a conscious effort to change that, both with our models and our line.

Translation: by natural, normal and full-figured, I mean women size 10-12 who can squeeze into our size XL. Not actual fat women LOL.

If every brand that tried to do this was met with such negative press, we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.

Translation: Fat people RUIN EVERYTHING!

In the past, American Apparel has been targeted for various reasons, many times by journalists who weren’t willing to go the extra mile to even visit the factory or meet the people in charge. Dov is a great executive director and American Industrialist, but there are hundreds of other decision-makers in our company, over half of whom are women.

Translation: I love misogynist douche bags! I am surrounded by women who also have no problem with this. We’re WOMEN, so clearly EVERYTHING MUST BE OK.

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.

Translation: This was the whole point of my letter, but I think very highly of myself so I treated you to a bajillion paragraphs of me patting myself on the back, making excuses and trying to make my company sounds like Not-Douchebags.


Please feel free to contact me directly anytime. If you want to know the real scoop about our company before writing a story, I’ve got it (or if I don’t, I can put you in touch with the person that does!).

Translation: But lots of people read your Tumblr, so… let’s be friends!


I mean… SERIOUSLY? Wow. If you’re curious, this is the Creative Director’s page on American Apparel’s website. She’s a gem!

Some of the tripe trotted out in this letter… the bizarre notion that women can’t possibly be misogynist toward other women. That the bend of the campaign and the language used in it aren’t demeaning to fat women. (again, the irony that AA clothes are TINY and size XL is not actually meant to fit real big girls) Frankly, if we want to really read into it, the focus on “bootylicious” and junk in the trunk is really limiting and sizist, reiterating the notion that being acceptably curvy — and “full figured” is limited to having culturally acceptable, womanly curves — and not fat in other places. (so: body snarking/politics!)

American Apparel was not looking for plus size models. They were looking for culturally acceptable “curvy” bodies with big butts. Upton’s response was humorous and a breath of fresh air – we “big” girls aren’t all sad and desperately waiting for that XL casting call. We can take the assumption that we sit around all day eating and turn it into a fabulous series of photos. American Apparel is Not Happy that she won. Who doesn’t take things seriously now?

You, Nancy Upton, are my hero. I love the photos, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and I’m sorry you had to receive this venomous letter — with media outlets copied in on it (really?).

*please note that the “translations” are completely made up, and are my attempt to be biting/funny. You know, in case that needs to be said. XD

Photo credit to Shannon Skloss Photography

6 thoughts on “The (On-going) Saga of Nancy Upton & American Apparel”

  1. … we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.

    Guess I’m going nekkid for the next 10 years. That’ll learn ’em. 😉

  2. Modcloth has embraced larger sizes and adorable plus size models without demeaning them. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Their marketing department should be shot. Only skinny bitches would think calling it the BIG campaign was ok. And their L is like a 6 so their XL will probably be the equivalent of an 8. Geeze. Nice article.

    1. Man, is it that bad? The one time I tried to shop at AA I eye-balled their sizes, it was clear they wouldn’t fit me and I left. If their L is approximately a size 6, I will cry.

      And YES — using the branding BIG Thing was very clearly not the idea of an actual “big” girl. Big girls do tongue-in-cheek very differently… and usually more respectfully. It really annoys me how AA thought that by “catering” to this demographic, they were doing some HUGE favor to “big” girls, so their puns, tone, etc. shouldn’t matter b/c the whole thing was a big damn gift. We shouldn’t take it so “seriously.” They can bite me.

      1. Get ready to cry. I buy AA T shirts and yoga pants to work out in (you have clearly seen me in them at Slimmons). You have seen how big I am. I’m a size 6 or 8, depending on the style. I ALWAYS wear a L in AA clothes! Their XL would be a size 10 tops! Maybe more like a comfy 8!

        Oh, and I LOVE Modcloth!!! They really have done a good job with plus sizes lately!

  3. Her profile picture is her own arse with a handprint emblazened on it? For real? Her professional profile on her company website? REALLY? Jeez….

    There is proof that women can be misogynist, without the nasty and spiteful junk she said to Nancy in this letter.

    Grr. Just grr!

    Thanks for this, is awesome, as always!

  4. BTW, there is an AA store here in the UK where I live (a city called Brighton) and to my unknowing-eyes it just looks like somekind of kiddie dance-clothes store. I’m a UK 10/12 (US 6/8?) and most of the things in there are too small for me. So them producing an XL? Big whoop.

    Gah again! I think I’ll keep on avoiding that place (which I did due to the horrible, weird advertisting campaigns they did anyway)

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