Ok, so I had to get in on the action here. American Apparel and Dov Charney are sleazy and disgusting and I want nothing to do with their commercial business at this point, but let me raise a couple of issues that have popped into my mind recently...
The only other place that immediately comes to mind when I think about hiring practices like AA (as outlined by Gawker) is Hooters. When I looked them up online about a year ago there was an extensive guide to how the girls were to apply their makeup and wear their hair, how they were to present themselves to the clients as perfect, giant-breasted barbie dolls there to please the men with fried, greasy goodness. One has to wonder if all the hype about AA scared the Hooters folks into taking this down. All I could find on their website today was this quote:
"We look for the All-American Cheerleader / Surfer-Girl-Next-Door image to fill our restaurants. In other words...Very bubbly, outgoing personalities!" Umm, does this even mean anything?
Image from 2009 Hooters CalendarConjuring the image of a Hooter's girl is not very difficult. She has big bouncy hair, plump lips, perfectly tanned and toned legs, and don't forget the enormous owls sitting on the front of her chest. The girl whose lifelong dream is to pose for playboy. Hooters doesn't do a lot of publicity (that I've seen, anyway, please correct me if I'm wrong) with their girls because a) people know what to expect, b) women would be horribly offended, and c) they have that little swimsuit competition every year. A place like Hooters encourages (overtly or not) women to bleach their hair and get boobs jobs, to sit in tanning beds for hours on end, to get that nose job or face lift or collagen injection that they've been wanting. Those women look completely and totally fake, and if telling women that they need to surgically alter their bodies to please men who just want to drool on them is not the pinnacle of misogyny, I don't know what is.
Dov Charney, AA CEO
I know that AA's policies are suspect and unjust and that their CEO is a giant creep and douchebag, but at least they're showing us images of real women. AA's models aren't wearing much makeup, they're not photoshopped, and you can tell that they look like a really pretty, sex-starved girl you might see walking down the street. They don't all look like they've been doing a bunch of blow or replacing two out of three daily meals with a cigarette break. They definitely haven't had boob jobs or been to the tanning salon (or even seen the sun in the last 6 months, for that matter). Yes, their poses are provocative and verging on voyeuristic. Emma Silvers on Salon.com describes AA's particular brand of sexy as "emaciated, ethnically ambiguous, suspiciously pre-pubescent girls who look like they were shipped here to be sex slaves, and just crawled out of their crates into headbands and fishnet leotards." Amen.
Image from AA website in the "sleepwear" section
So yes, there's been a shit storm of information coming out since Gawker's first AA expose detailing how creepy and racist they are, but let's not bee too quick to jump the misogyny gun. AA's practices are just as stringent for men, so if anything, AA is just all around anti-people. That makes it ok, right?
Also, one hilarious detail that I felt the need to add in here is that for all of Silver's defense of AA's social justice and responsible labor practices, AA people think that a bend on social justice is uncool. When I went to apply for a job at one of their new locations about a year ago, I was advised by a friend (and AA employee) not to mention anything about the fair and local labor to my interviewer because apparently people who care about the environment or humanity are way too square to be employed by such a hip establishment.
If anything, I'm going to stop shopping at AA because they're hypocritical assholes who are all about the image and don't give a flying fuck about the substance or content. They're not trying to make a move for local labor in US clothing manufacturing, they're just capitalizing on our desire for socially-conscious brands and then trying to sell us on their own image. Gold lame anything was horrifying in the 80's and it's horrifying now. The scrunchies and bootie shorts and neon everything never really caught on the way AA seemed to hope it would, either. When I stop to think about it, AA hasn't done anything revolutionary in fashion at all, they've just tried to sell us hideous, poorly made (have you ever tried to buy a skirt or pants there? when was the last time you tried on a pair of shorts in a size S that were more ample than the size L? how hard is it to achieve some standardization in sizing), over-priced clothing. I guess I'm just not sure why there's all this fuss about them now when they've always been such a shifty corporation.
In sum, I think people need to stop focusing only on AA's portrayal of and effect on women. It extends so much deeper than that. They expose the superficiality of the whole socially-conscious alt-hipster-whatever movement. We've bought into this shit hook, line, and sinker for nearly a decade without stopping to question what our values actually were and whether or not these companies were really responding to that. We didn't know why we gave a shit about justice or equality and AA saw that and ran with it. So kudos to them for recognizing how ignorant and lazy we are as consumers, but now that we've noticed, we don't have to help them continue to profit from our own ignorance. That feeling of belonging to the crew of AA devotees is not trivial, but can't we harness that belonging while thinking about something that matters more than getting your hands on the latest piece of reflective spandex legwear?