American Apparel Angered by Spoofer Who Won Its Modeling Contest

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Shannon Skloss Photography

When American Apparel recently introduced a new line of XL clothing, the company launched its “Next BIG Thing” contest to find “booty-ful” models. They probably didn’t expect someone like Nancy Upton to spoil their fun by mocking the contest — and then winning.

Upton, 24, had a friend shoot a series of photos that included ones of herself sensuously biting into a whole roasted chicken and languorously lying in a tub full of ranch dressing. Her entry description: “I’m a size 12. I can’t stop eating.”

With the help of a blog that showed the full series of photos, Upton received the most votes on the contest website — but American Apparel won’t be using her as a model. That is something neither party wants.

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Upton’s mocking photos are clearly a critique of the company for seeming to pat itself on the back for offering the new larger sizes. She told Jezebel that the campaign “used cutesy, tired euphemisms and this faux-chummy supportive tone that a lot of people found cheap and insulting.”

In the past, American Apparel has come under fire for its ads that show young women in pornographic poses, and its CEO Dov Charney has been sued by multiple employees for sexual misconduct. So this p.r. fiasco might be considered relatively tame, even amusing, in comparison — but the company apparently doesn’t think so.

Its creative director Iris Alonzo responded to Upton’s stunt by sending her a long email, which was also distributed to the press, and criticized the media’s negative coverage of the company in general. A few excerpts:

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. 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.

I suppose you have read a few too many negative pieces about us that have helped to form your opinion of who we are and what we stand for, and perhaps this has clouded your ability to give us a chance. I get it. I read some of it too. As a creative who isn’t always the most tactful and tends to stay away from the limelight, maybe I haven’t spoken up as much as I should have over the past 8 years that I’ve worked at American Apparel. Perhaps I could have shed some light on some issues that have been left cloudy over the years. However, sensational media will always need something to latch on to and success, spandex and individuality (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets.

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.

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