Nancy Upton Is More Than Just The Next Big Thing

American Apparel and Dov Charney do not have a  stellar track record in general when it comes to ethical behavior as a corporation.  Dov Charney’s record of sexual harassment and the company’s unconscionable behavior towards their employees in terms of gender, race, lookism and general is pretty well documented, and can be caught up on pretty quickly by searching “american apparel” on Jezebel. One of American Apparel’s more distasteful policies, though, is their long-held refusal to market to fat people or make plus-size products. Their reasoning? Plus-sized women “aren’t their demographic.” Charming, right? Then, they announced this:

American Apparel has for a long time claimed that their models are all amateurs (although that claim is at this point clearly untrue), so when they began their “Next BIG Thing Contest,” which called for new plus-size (also known on the website as “booty-ful” and possessing “full-size fannies”) amateur models, the inference seemed to be that women of all sizes were now welcomed into the ranks of people who could be featured on hundreds of websites posing seductively with scrunchies. The contest description went like so:

Think you are the Next BIG Thing?
Calling curvy ladies everywhere! Our best-selling Disco Pant (and around 10 other sexy styles) are now available in size XL, for those of us who need a little extra wiggle room where it counts. 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.

Just send us two recent photographs of yourself, one that clearly shows your face and one of your body. We’ll select a winner to be flown out to our Los Angeles headquarters to star in your own bootylicious photoshoot. Runners up will win an enviable assortment of our favorite new styles in XL!

Show us what you’re workin’ with!

The contest, now closed, got almost 1000 entries. You can check out the top entrants on AA’s website — surprise, there are plenty of drop-dead gorgeous women (and plenty of professional models, as well) who are over a size 6. (Sidenote: it is very easy to lose your entire afternoon browsing that gallery.) But not everyone was pleased with it — some found the language condescending, and as Jezebel noted, “Maybe we should be excited that another company is acknowledging the existence of (slightly) larger women, but carrying a freakin’ 12 just seems long overdue.”

Nancy Upton is one of the people who weren’t won over by AA’s attempt at an olive branch on the issue. She entered the contest, but her photos are a little different than everyone else’s. Her bio on the AA contest website reads: “I’m a size 12. I just can’t stop eating.”

She’s currently the number one ranked contestant out of 991.

Upton was recently interviewed on Jezebel on how and why she decided to respond to American Apparel with what’s essentially web-based performance art on fat femininity and beauty and how we feel about women and consumption.

I read Margaret’s article about the contest on your website and followed the link over. I immediately thought, based on the way it was written, “Wow, they really have zero respect for plus-sized women. They’re going to line them up like cattle and make puns about them until they’re blue in the face.” And then, as corny as it sounds, it just occurred to me that based on their “Hey, come on, fatties, we want you to play, too” tone, wouldn’t it be kind of brilliant to respond in a, “Thanks for letting me play, just let me try put down the pizza, first” similar mocking tone. From there, I realized I knew a great photographer, I had a free couple of hours on Sunday and a little extra money in my pocket to drop on some ranch dressing and a chicken.

You can learn more about Upton’s project (and see more photos) on her tumblr, Extra Wiggle Room. She says she never expected to get a majority of votes, and hopes that opportunities aren’t being taken away from women who were genuinely wanted them. But it’s worth noting that the most popular contestant is the one who opposes its premise. And worth checking out the rest of what she has to say, as well!

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 771 articles for us.

20 Comments

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    I read the article about her on BITCH but I didn’t really understand that she was being humourous about the whole shebang. Also from the pictures I saw on BITCH I did not understand that she was plus size, but I don’t really understand plus size. What fashion thinks is plus size appears normal to me.

    I’m not really great on fashion politics, but all of this seems way less problematic than the way it was first presented to me. And Nancy Upton seems awesome even though that ranch bath is super gross to me.

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    I’m really tired of companies that feel “catering to plus size girls” is basically carrying anything over a size 0. I honestly don’t know if I would ever shop at these stores anyway because anything that might carry in my size range is just going to be something that is scaled up, and completely unflattering because it’s not designed for a larger girl. This is why I love and will probably always shop at Lane Bryant. They’re a store that knows how to provide for the needs of the actual plus sized community.

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    far far far be it from me to defend american apparel

    but they really aren’t the only company to do cap their sizes at “tall and skinny”

    the hamfisted disrespectful way that they’ve gone about this “contest” is deplorable but other companies (urban outfitters and its subsidiaries?) quietly do the exact same thing

    i do think it’s kind of cool that they seemed (the link to the submissions isn’t up any more) to be actually counting the votes rather than just hiring whoever they want like many other online and tv contests. if nancy upton wins the next chapter in this saga will be very interesting.

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    i love the pictures she took. AA’s pics always me feel uncomfortable in the way the models are positioned in such compromising poses, like i’m looking at something that shouldn’t ever have left someone’s private picture drawer, instead of something that is plastered on billboards and buses. (is that what they were going for?)
    But Nancy’s pictures are sexy and she looks engaged and strong. even when she is positioned with that apple in her mouth, you can see the strength and determination in her face.
    thanks for this story.

  5. Pingback: besthotmodels.com | Blog | Spoofing Fat Girl Stereotypes - Will Nancy Upton Be American Apparel's 'Next Big Thing'? - About

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    I love how her kitschy photos play on Americana motifs like apple pie, and bbqs to critique both American Apparel and American aesthetics!

    We at nakedtherapy.org even awarded her the inaugural “Naked Truth Award.” Upton used her keen sense of sociology, sexuality and satire to attack societal beauty standards and she should be applauded!

    She speaks fluent body language, and I like what she has to say!

    To read more about the Naked Truth Award, or Naked Therapy’s opinions on female objectification, visit our blog: http://nakedtherapy.org/2011/09/15/the-naked-truth-nancy-upton-and-the-critique-of-america%E2%80%99s-standard-of-beauty/

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