American Apparel

WS 235 Gendered Images Project

Created by Amanda Dalsgaard

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CONTEXT

This is one ad of many that represents a clothing company called American Apparel. American Apparel is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States. It is best known for making basic, solid-color cotton knitwear such as T-shirts and underwear, but in recent years it has expanded—to include leggings, leotards, tank tops vintage clothing, dresses, pants, denim, bedding and accessories for men, women, children, babies, and dogs in various prints and colors. Advertisements like the one depicted above can be seen on the internet, in magazines, on billboards and throughout the stores themselves. American Apparel has over 270 store locations world wide and has a net income of over 40 million dollars a year. It is an extremely popular clothing store for men and women and is well known for their provocative and controversial advertisements. These sexually charged advertisements have been inspired and produced by the CEO and chairman of the company, Dov Charney.

CONTENT

American Apparel prides themselves on displaying their models with minimal airbrushing and often with blemishes showing and embraced. However this 'all natural look' is displayed in an extremely provocative and oppressive way .
  • All the women in American Apparel ads are posed in a provocative way, often in minimal to no clothing, while the men are fully clothed in a relaxed normal stance.
  • Ads portray men as active, full human beings while women are depicted as passive sex objects.
  • These images imply messages that women must be half naked, sexy, erotic in a world where men are fully accepted being plain and clothed from head to toe.
  • Women are dehumanized- being modeled into positions that scream sex, and showcase their bodies as a sexual entity, rather than simply an object for displaying clothes.
  • Most of the models are white and fair smaller in overall size, representing that this look is the norm and most desirable.
  • The same unisex clothing that is sold throughout these stores are displayed on women in a completely different manner than it is on men.
  • While men are shown wearing the shirt in normal, unassuming poses, women are shown wearing nothing but the shirt, and often in provocative poses.


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FORM

In most of the advertisements produced by American Apparel, the women are posed in overly seductive, erotic, sexual ways. They often have their legs spread, breasts out, or bottoms up. While the men on the other hand are typically fully clothed, relaxed in a laid back, everyday stance. The images are very natural, very little airbrushing is used and often the blemishes on these models are highlighted by the use of lighting or stance. The women are often displayed in minimal to no clothing. For example, when trying to display a unisex zip up sweater, the female model would be seen with the sweater completely unzipped with no shirt on underneath, her breasts just barley covered and nothing but small string underwear on the bottom. This same sweater would be displayed on the male model wearing it as a conservative everyday piece of clothing. Looking back at the female models, its hard to tell if these ads are selling clothing or sex.
Over 90% of the models for American Apparel are white. This is significant because it presents a racist assumption that whit is the norm and superior over other races. This presentation of models in such a large clothing brand that distributes all around the world puts out a sexist and racist image that represents America.


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READING & ANALYSIS

American Apparel provides consumers with clothing products distributed all around the world that are meant represent America. The provocative nature of the advertisements represent America in a negative light, encouraging white supremacy, oppression over the female body, the power of seduction, eroticism, and sex. They are designed to catch the eye of the viewer, but they do so in a way that puts women down and clearly depicts the power of men over women in their ads. Most of the ads have women portrayed in clothing that shows off areas of their bodies that should be covered and in positions that resemble sexual forms. If male models were to be put in the same positions that American Apparel places the women in, they would look obscene. But why do we think like this? Obviously there is already a predisposed idea of what is okay for women to and and not okay for men to. Our nation has created an oppression over women through advertisements and media like American Apparel encourages and it ingrains into our minds these ideas. These ideas are instilled subconsciously in our minds through the thousands of advertisements, commercials, magazines, books, tv shows, and clothing stores that fill our country by producing images of how men and women 'should' act and look. It is conditioning that has plagued all of us and is simply being encouraged and fueled by companies like American Apparel.
Many of the readings we read in class focus on cultural criticism and how it is an essential tool to understanding the meaning of any facet of a culture. Cultural criticism is the critique or analysis of any culture and it is usually very radical. Bell hooks is a well known author and feminist scholar who claims that cultural criticism allows for people to transform their lives by assessing why certain representations are seen, used and accepted in our culture. In her view, learning to think critically is an essential tool for anyone who attempts to find the meaning of any facet of their culture, particularly if we wish to understand the ways that popular cultural (including film, television, media, etc) influences our lives and shapes the social world. Applying Bell hooks' cultural criticism to American Apparel, we can see that this popular company is used in part to shape American Culture and represent it, even if it is in a negative, oppressive, vulgar way. Bell hooks comprised a video that we watched in class that provided an introduction to the ways that feminist cultural critics, such as feminist scholars, theorize about the ways gender, race, class, sexuality, and other vectors comprise the politics of representation. All of these different vectors are compromised and expressed in the advertisements of American Apparel.



REFERENCES

Links to bell hooks video that we watched in class:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLMVqnyTo_0&
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ-XVTzBMvQ&
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0whHz7PLGY&

Plank, Elizabeth. 2013. Think American Apparel isn't Sexist? Culture. Web. <http://www.policymic.com/articles/42717/think-american-apparel-isn-t-sexist-maybe-this-will-convince-you>

NDTV. Swedes Accuse American Apparel of Sexist Ads. Agence-France Press. 15 May 2013. <http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/swedes-accuse-american-apparel-of-sexist-ads-367402>


Lacey, Martha. 2014. American Apparel branded 'sexist' over 'sleazy' ads for unisex shirt with half-naked women in g-strings... but fully-clothed men. Mail Online. Web. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2325474/American-Apparel-branded-sexist-degrading-ads-unisex-shirt-featuring-half-naked-women-g-strings-fully-clothed-men.html>