American Apparel’s plus-size model search was titled “The Next Big Thing.” Dallas student Nancy Upton decided to go over the top to get noticed.
Armed with her size-12 figure, her blog “Extra Wiggle Room” and a raunchy photo shoot, Upton wanted to send American Apparel (and the Internet at large) a loud-and-clear message: “There’s a fine line between silly and insulting when you’re discussing physical beauty.”
Upton didn’t hide a single curve from the lens, and what she ended up getting was the contest’s popular vote, but a snub from the company.
The 24-year-old said in a phone interview Wednesday that she’s not sad she didn’t win American Apparel’s grand prize — a modeling gig and trip to Los Angeles. Modeling wasn’t her goal. Instead, Upton said the aim was to “poke a little fun” at a contest that had upset people in the blogosphere.
For a cost of about $250 in food props — several gallons of milk, a roast chicken, a pie, a container of chocolate sauce — and a professional photographer, Upton was able to spark a new debate around an often-explored topic: the acceptance of full-figured women into fashion and mainstream culture.
“I’m just glad that people can use this to start conversations,” Upton said. And converse viewers did, whether it was through comment streams on Reddit debating whether she was really a size 12 to a diagram-like rundown of the battle by the Atlantic. Online commentary has ranged from hailing Upton’s photo shoot as performance art to criticizing her for delegitimizing plus-size modeling.
American Apparel creative director Iris Alonzo sent an e-mail to Upton on Tuesday explaining that the company wasn’t trying to differentiate between big and beautiful, but this isn’t the first time the controversy-prone company has grappled with a reputation for excluding plus-size customers. (The tag line from Upton’s blog, “That’s not our demographic,” is an alleged comment from an American Apparel showroom employee to April Flores, a plus-size shopper in 2010.)
Citing a media bias against the company, Alonzo wrote that the company’s message was trying to be supportive all along:
“Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection,” read Alonzo’s e-mail to Upton. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Alonzo also addressed the “that’s not our demographic” comment. She wrote, “I don’t recall the name of the confused employee credited with saying that, but he or she was sadly uninformed, and our company certainly does not endorse their statement.”
Flores, an adult film actress visited American Apparel’s showroom hoping to get inspiration for her own plus-size clothing line in 2010. She said she was surprised to see herself mentioned in Alonzo’s message.
“I think it is a year and four months too late to acknowledge what happened to me,” Flores wrote in an e-mail.
Alonzo told BlogPost American Apparel is used to the media firestorm.
“Controversy and spotlight goes with the territory,” Alonzo said in an e-mail. “We have a point of view and a ‘personality,’ unlike most big fashion companies. I think many people appreciate that about us.”