Recently, I got into a discussion with a dear friend about the less obvious types of beauty that exists beyond small/big body types and remembered that I had this amazing article. I had to dig all the way to the bottom of my inbox to find this, so I will admit that this is old – from May 2010! But I still feel that it’s very worth posting, because there is a great statement behind it and I really want to reveal the wider range of beauty. So…I’m not a fan of American Apparel. I don’t like their closed-minded advertising, their controlling employment policy or the way they conduct their business, which is highly unethical. So I was thrilled when I found this article on Hipster Runoff about an artist/photographer that did a project to demonstrate that American Apparel company branding experts are ‘misleading consumers’ by trying to make it seem like their models are ‘every day women.’ The message goes much deeper, though: the model appearing in the project is disabled, bringing to light that the media completely neglects this audience (many other audiences as well). Basically, the artist had a disabled friend pose in fake advertisements that were supposed to mirror ‘legitimate’ American Apparel campaigns. The project was called “American Able.” Here’s the project description: Official Project Description:
‘American Able’ intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women who are employees, friends and fans of the company. However, these women fit particular body types. Their campaigns are highly sexualized and feature women who are generally thin, and who appear to be able-bodied. Women with disabilities go unrepresented, not only in American Apparel advertising, but also in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable.’ In a society where sexuality is created and performed over and over within popular culture, the invisibility of women with disabilities in many ways denies them the right to sexuality, particularly within a public context. Too often, the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media goes unexamined, consumed en masse by the public. However, this imagery has real, oppressive effects on people who are continuously ‘othered’ by society. The model, Jes Sachse, and I intend to reveal these stories by placing her in a position where women with disabilities are typically excluded.
This work was part of a group exhibit for CONTACT 2010 and was shown on over 270 digital screens in 50 Toronto Transit Commission stations throughout May 2010. I wanted to post this not because it is outing American Apparel, although I do like to show the dirt behind that brand. I wanted to show this because I think it makes us think about the models that are used in our everyday advertising – even advertising not as strictly controlled as American Apparel’s. We are used to seeing tall, slim and able-bodied models that embody what we’ve been taught to believe is “perfection.” In the article, some questions were raised…For example, if brands don’t have ‘hot models’ showcasing their clothes, will the brands be irrelevant? Why isn’t there more of a variety of models being used? What are we communicating by using advertising that only caters to one group of people? I absolutely hope that we’re capable of expanding our minds enough to look past our ideas of “hot” to embrace everyone. I also hope that advertisers find better ways to communicate the quality of their products without using sexualized images of people. We might be a bit far from it right now, but I’m hoping that there is a time where we’re all viewed as equal and that no one is isolated because they are not “hot” enough.