American Apparel XL Competition – an XL-ent spoof or a huge misunderstanding?

American Apparel’s ‘The Next Big Thing’ competition has garnered a lot of press attention – but perhaps not as the company originally intended.

Nancy Upton – who appears lightyears ahead of her fellow contestants and looks to be a sure-fire win of the (now closed) competition – never intended to go this far and never intends to model for the brand, declaring in an article for The Daily Beast today: ‘I want nothing to do with a company that’s wanted nothing to do with large women until now’.

Nancy, who reminds us on her blog of past reports of American Apparel’s attitude to the plus-sized market and body image, supposedly the very thing that spurred her entry to AA’s ‘XLent’ competition.

American Apparel attracted entries from just under a thousand plus-sized wannabe models, declaring:

‘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.’

Nancy, however, found this approach insulting, kicking back in an interview with The Daily Beast today:

“The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind. How offensive the campaign was. How it spoke to plus-sized women like they were starry-eyed 16 year olds from Kansas whose dream, obviously, was to hop a bus to L.A. to make it big in fashion. How apparently there were no words in existence to accurately describe the way American Apparel felt about a sexy, large woman, and so phrases like “booty-ful” and “XLent” would need to be invented for us—not only to fill this void in American vocabulary, but also make the company seem like a relatable, sassy friend to fat chicks.”

In response to the competition, she uploaded professional looking photos of herself scantily-clad in humorous poses – all of them involving her eating excessively.

Proving a point?

Nancy seems to be pointing out one obvious flaw in American Apparel’s competition – the exclusion of one body type – the satyrising of the larger girl and the connotations that come along with that. Nancy shows that a picture says a thousand words and her statement has been heard on a viral scale.

Upton stated in her blog:

“I don’t just consider them to be beautiful, talented and professional for, you know, plus-sized women. I consider them to be beautiful, talented and professional PEOPLE. Size and beauty are not mutually exclusive.”

I don’t believe that beauty should be qualified as BECAUSE of someone’s size or IN SPITE of someone’s size. Beauty is beauty, it’s fluid, it’s objective and it doesn’t need to be justified to or by anyone.”

Nancy insists that her entry was a spoof of the competition itself and never intended to upset any of her fellow entrants. She asserts:

I believe the women who entered the American Apparel “contest” are beautiful, brave people, and my attempt here to respond to the company’s course of action is JUST that- it is in no way a comment or critique of the women who have submitted photos.

What do you make of Nancy’s brave statement? An unfair mockery of a well-intended competition or something which needed to be said and a controversy that needed to be addressed?

Image credits: Nancy Upton @ and American Apparel

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10 Replies to “American Apparel XL Competition – an XL-ent spoof or a huge misunderstanding?”

  1. First thought: How cool is that?!!

    I just remembered a conversation a had some month ago with one of my skinnier male friends about American Apparel Sizing who told me a little shocked that he needed a L-size when he usually fits an S everywhere else. He said: “Know I know what you’re always talking about. This is just crazy. ”
    I mean its great if smaller people do get fitting clothes and are not sent to the children department. (This – sadly – still happens quite a lot!) But the same goes for bigger men and women. Why should they not wear fashionable clothing as well?
    Its fantastic, that it is the winner of their competition who now “turns on them”.
    F*** you, American Apparel. Ha!

    Thanks a lot of this posting! I enjoyed it immensely!

  2. I can understand her frustration, and she’s very clever in her response, but I find the anger at a company for making a business decision to expand its size range somewhat misplaced So they haven’t had plus-size clothing until now, and now they’re going to have them–it’s not personal.

    There is a lot involved in expanding a size range, and one of the biggest considerations is marketing to make sure that the new target customer knows that a store now has products for them. American Apparel’s contest was a smart marketing move, and Nancy Upton’s outrage only gives it more of the spotlight.

    Perhaps it’s a win-win since both parties get their message across.

  3. I love her. I think her project is fantastic. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s bold, it’s TRUE.

    I think Darlene is misinformed about the situation: it’s not about American Apparel suddenly making a business decision to have a larger size (and XL is NOT a plus size.) It is about the fact that American Apparel has consistently been insulting toward fat people, and suddenly they want fat people to give them money. It’s also about the fact that the language used in their contest is pretty damn insulting.

    American Apparel’s contest is a smart move if they want the anti-fat demographic, or the grossly uninformed, to shop there.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Priscilla! I completely agree that the language used was insulting – it was making a joke out of the competition as opposed to a celebration of diversity. Darlene is a business owner so can probably understand more from that point of view that American Apparel probably did have some good intentions hidden beneath the hideous use of puns and poor-taste hackneyed phrases – somewhere? x

    2. Perhaps I am misinformed, but I have not seen how AA has been consistently insulting toward fat people. The Jezebel post that I read on this subject only quoted the AA sales rep as saying in the past that the plus-size market was “not our demographic”.

      Every clothing manufacturer chooses its target demographic. I think it’s great that AA now thinks that there is enough demand for it to expand into larger sizes (and I agree that XL is not plus-size, and Nancy Upton, as a US size 12, is not plus size). Their biggest mistake was in the language they used in introducing it, which I agree can be perceived as insulting.

      However, AA has always been controversial in its marketing. Shopping there does not automatically make a person anti-fat or grossly uninformed. It could mean that the customer simply wants a certain piece of clothing that she can’t find elsewhere. She may want to support the fact that the clothing is made in America.

      I’m sure AA would love it if “fat people” (or even simply not tiny people) would “give” them their money, especially since it is in dire financial straits, but the company is simply offering a business proposition: we are making clothing in your size; if you want one of the items of clothing, it costs X amount of dollars.

      I consider AA a skeezy company, and the controversy surrounding this recent campaign is only consistent with its image. But maybe this controversy will be enough to cause its offering of larger sizes to flop. Perhaps no one will purchase the XL’s and they will have to be destroyed. Then the larger size market will definitely not be AA’s demographic.

      Hopefully other companies will begin to reach out to the larger-sized demographic in a more respectful way. If AA’s new line could succeed, I think that other companies would be more likely to do so.

      1. Whatever the purpose of her photos… who took them? Bloody good photography. And she looks stunning in them, despite her surroundings. La Chapelle esque.

  4. I have never been a fan of AA nor am I taken in by their sudden change in attitude. That said, I also don’t think the fact that she won over other models who took this seriously is a “win” for plus-sized people. Forget the fact that it’s AA for a second, it’s not easy being plus-sized and confident. It’s not easy modeling when you’re sized 14+ and it’s definitely not easy losing to someone eating a whole chicken. As much as I can understand why Nancy did what she did, I can understand why others would find this offensive because to some degree I do, too.

    I’m glad she got her point across, American Apparel is guilty of so much more than their sizeist policies that they decide to change the minute they think there’s a profit to be made; however, I really do hope all of those plus-sized girls find another opportunity (one that will be taken seriously) to do some modeling. A lot of the entrants were amateurs and this would have otherwise been a great opportunity if it wasn’t American Apparel.

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