Advertising, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Sweet Machine

In which I am defeated by a billboard

I hate this ad.

Doesn't this make you want to... buy a dress?

I stood waiting for a bus the other day while another bus idled in front of me. It had this ad on the side, bigger than life. I stared at this passive, anonymous woman, done up all ’80s-retro so you can pretend she’s not even in the present, much less someone with thoughts and desires that might conflict with your own.

There are a lot of reasons to hate American Apparel. So, so many (NSFW on all those links). But for some reason, seeing this image around town — even though the woman in it is more clothed than many others in AA ads — makes me especially sad and especially angry. To me, this looks different from the usual despicable American Apparel visual language for women’s clothing, which is of amateur porn; this looks like a woman impersonating a blow-up doll. She’s ready for you (and by you, of course, I mean Manly Straight Man You, not Woman Who Might Want to Buy a Pencil Dress You) to climb right on top of her and yank that ponytail to kingdom come. And you don’t even have to look her in her stupid eyes — they’re conveniently covered up to disguise any trace of personality!

Women are represented as sexual objects so frequently in our culture that it often barely registers for me; I walk past ads with tits and ass galore and just go “hmmph” as I go about my business. But every now and then, some image wakes me up temporarily to just how fucking disposable women are in ads, in songs, in films, in books. I take off my “just make it through your day blinkers” and look around me in horror. I don’t know why image in particular jolted me any more than another — it might have just been the amount of time I had to look at it — but I can say unequivocally that seeing this image in public made me feel unsafe. There’s no other way to put it.

This ad, like so many others, has a message: women are here for your sexual amusement. Stare at them. Talk to them. Touch them. They’re just waiting for you to do it; they put their hair up so you can grab it. They wear heels so you can ogle their legs. They’ll do whatever you want, and you don’t even have to look them in the eyes.

103 thoughts on “In which I am defeated by a billboard”

  1. I don’t know why image in particular jolted me any more than another — it might have just been the amount of time I had to look at it — but I can say unequivocally that seeing this image in public made me feel unsafe. There’s no other way to put it.

    You just named it. When I see their ads I feel very much objectified, despite not being the target ed ad consumer (men) or goods consumer (women). In addition to being told that female bodies are sexually accessible, they are also reinforcing the idea that it’s also important to look like this.

    i also loathe how the women in these ads are generally styled to look under the influence and/or post abused. It is very disturbing to me to see this kind of thing marketed as fashionable, but since they don’t use sweatshops – overseas anyway – critiquing their marketing concept just means we’re a bunch of whiners who don’t get the subversive messaging.

  2. A quick PSA: it took me a little while to figure out that I couldn’t see the ad because I have Firefox with AdBlockPlus installed. (To solve, I disabled it on this page only.) If other people have the same problem, hopefully this tip will fix it. If I’m the only one, sorry for blathering!

  3. Ugh. I have such a hard time understanding why so many of my fellow female grad students love-love-love American Apparel. I’ve never been impressed by the goods, and I’m downright creeped out by the ad campaigns. I’m not particularly good with words for this sort of thing, so I’ll just add on my “+1/me too” to the comments from both Sweet Machine and Snarky. Well stated.

  4. I hate Dov Charney so fucking much. There, I said it. Everything about him is offensive. At first, I figured that AA’s atrocious ads were the fault of some marketing asshole, but nope, it’s all a part of Charney’s perverse sense of entitlement.

    In that Jezebel article, it says that he breaks out into Québecois French when he talks about immigration and his support for his predominantly Mexican staff. His ‘solidarity’ sickens me; it’s just a blatant and disgusting usurpation of someone else’s oppression. He’s an immigrant, sure, and even though he’s the son of a successful architect and an artist, and the nephew of freaking Moshe Safdie, and even though he went to fucking Choate, he really really knows what it’s like to be a Mexican woman in LA working for twelve bucks an hour. A woman surrounded by skeeviness and still expected to praise her perverted overlord for throwing her an extra couple of bucks an hour in exchange for enduring a sexually hostile workplace.

    AA gives a new meaning to ‘sweatshop’.

    As a Canadian and a Montrealer, I am so ashamed and so sorry to be a member of a culture that unleashed this asshole of epic assholery onto the world.

  5. Huh. Interestingly, Sweet Machine, I’m having the exact opposite reaction to this ad that you are. Compared to other AA ads, I find it way less offensive and objectifying, and honestly, not even that sexual. And yes, it actually makes me want to buy a dress! Just goes to show, I guess, how the same thing can be read read differently by different people.

    [just for the record, this is the same sara l. as always – I’m just updating my login to reflect my new email.]

  6. I fortunately haven’t seen this ad around town yet, but I totally agree that ads can make women feel unsafe. Back in the fall the area around my office in midtown Manhattan seemed to be plastered with posters for the Tucker Max movie and they made me extremely uncomfortable.

  7. I don’t know if it’s at all related to your reaction, but the first thing I saw in this picture was a chart. Maybe because the windows in the back are like a grid.

    She’s the line on the chart, and it starts out low and wavering, and then spikes up at the end. Like an economic chart, indicating we’re making more money now, the economy is good, etcetera.

  8. A grad school acquaintance of mine was once in earshot when I made a disparaging comment about AA’s adverts, and she didn’t miss a beat before explaining that she wants to look like an American Apparel model every day. I am not kidding.

    I mean, people have the right to dress how they like. I don’t have a problem with women who want to run around town in a mesh bodystocking. But the women in these ads, they’re so…so vacant. They don’t look real. They don’t even look conscious. They just look like objects. Who aspires to look like a piece of furniture for someone else to slap their sex parts against? I guess this fellow student of mine does, and since AA isn’t going away, I suppose there must be a lot more people like her.

    Did you know that Apple employees’ uniforms are AA t-shirts? Surreal.

  9. @ oldfeminist, I see the chart too, which could be really good advertising if the rest wasn’t shitty.

    The thing that gets me about it is you can’t even see the fucking dress, or how it looks when you aren’t in a position that no one ever would be in during normal day to day life. Sure, even if she was standing I wouldn’t be able to tell how it would look on my body, but I’d be able to compare some. That makes it very clear what they’re selling, they’re not selling the damn dress, they’re selling this girl to men, and this body to women.

    The other problem is that they named her, which could be good, she’s not faceless and nameless this girl has a name, it is Alanna. It’s the way they phrased it though. It comes across like an ad for a barbie doll or for a sex doll. You can buy her with these outfits and she’s so lifelike! Alanna can come with red hair or brown hair, wearing a scoop back pencil dress or a bikini! But it doesn’t matter because it’s coming right off anyway!

    It doesn’t bother me as much as some, the ones that really get to me are the ads where they only use one part of a body, just tits or just an ass or something like that. When I see ads where the whole body is included I’m just glad they didn’t chop her up.

  10. It doesn’t bother me as much as some, the ones that really get to me are the ads where they only use one part of a body, just tits or just an ass or something like that. When I see ads where the whole body is included I’m just glad they didn’t chop her up.

    You know, this is why it surprised me that I had such a strong reaction to this particular ad. Thinking about it now, though, I think maybe the wholeness is part of the ick factor for me: the ad is offering up the whole woman for the taking. She’s all yours!

    Not trying to argue anyone into or out of greater ickiness — just thinking through my own reactions.

  11. Yeah, I understand that, it’s not just a fleshlight it’s a whole sex doll! That does make sense.

    Now that I’ve gone back to look at the links to old ads (I live in a small town in Missouri, we don’t have many ads like that here, we aren’t important enough for the ad dollars) I’m confused as to how they’ve ever sold any clothes. They’re more like those cards they hand out in Vegas for sex workers than they are ads for clothes, how do you sell something that never even appears in your ads?

  12. @ Alibelle

    At first I didn’t really find the ad all too offensive, especially in comparison with their past work, but when I looked back and noticed the phrasing after reading your comment, it really disturbed me.

    It’s almost like she shouldn’t even be a proper noun. Why did they even bother capitalizing “Alanna?” It kind of implicity reads, “An alanna in a black dress.” She’s a thing that happens to be the thing they’re using at the time.

    The add may not be as blatantly sexual, but the objectification is still there in a subtle, creepy way.

  13. Sometimes I think my brain says, “Hey, pay attention!” when I’ve gone too long suppressing my general disgust with AA and the over all way in which clothing is marketed to folks.

  14. @igeek – same here. My department’s grad student association is making t-shirts to sell for a little profit, and the rest of my fellow students voted near-unanimously to get AA shirts. Admittedly a couple of them are rather old-school patriarchal “good old boy” types, but the people who were most for it are progressive and even feminist-leaning in other ways. When I tried to speak out against it, I felt I was just being written off as old and unhip (I worked 10 years before returning to school, so a good decade older than most of the other students). I’ve never even been in an AA store, and never will.

  15. I think what makes it extra creepy for me is the ponytail. . . she looks like she is inviting the viewer to toss or drag her around by the hair, like she’s asking to be hurt. And the unsafe feeling comes up for me because I don’t want anyone thinking that’s what I’m asking for just by, you know, also being female. Maybe that wouldn’t be my first thought if I didn’t regularly see so many images that contained violence against women—but since I do, that’s where my brain goes when I look at that particular unnatural, uncomfortable pose. . .and the ad maybe tries to “get away with it” by making her complicit—she’s the one offering her ponytail, after all. . .she’s contented being strewn on the floor.

    Speaking of what can seem like inevitable representations of violence against women, my partner and I were watching late night tv and made up a game—we were flipping back and forth between Jay Leno and Family Guy (why were were torturing ourselves with Leno in particular is a whole separate question) and made the rule that we had to change the channel every time the show we were watching made a fat joke or a rape culture joke, and at the end of the half hour we would see which show we had seen more of.

    Well, that was the initial object of the game. . .then we had to revise it to something more like “and see if you can get through the half hour without a massive migraine from the strobe effect of switching channels.” Started out kind of funny, ended up way depressing.

  16. My department’s grad student association is making t-shirts to sell for a little profit, and the rest of my fellow students voted near-unanimously to get AA shirts

    I mean, the whole appeal of AA is supposed to be that they do not exploit their workers, right? That’s how they got their name in the first place. When I first heard of them, it had not been too long since I’d read No Logo, and I thought it sounded like they had the right idea. Then I had an AA store move into my neighborhood and I started seeing the ads all the time; then I started hearing about Dov Charney’s sexual harassment of his workers and even of reporters who came to report on his sexual harassment (!); then they started making clothes that seemed designed solely so they could make the porniest ads possible. The people who think they’re being virtuous by buying AA think that labor exploitation is worth taking a stand on (it is!) but gender exploitation isn’t (oops!). We all have to make a devil’s bargain when we buy manufactured goods, but by claiming not to exploit people because they pay their factory workers above minimum wage while they produce some of the most objectifying ads on the planet, AA is just pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining. And I don’t let dude with pornstaches piss on me. That’s an ironclad rule of mine.

  17. Where does one buy ethical underpants?

    Dov Charney is an asshole and a union-buster and a sexual harasser, and I’m not happy about the ads, but the AA factories still pay better than minimum wage and conform to some basic safety standards – which is more than I can assume from the panties imported from Vietnam or Thailand that show up in places like Target and Old Navy. AA also offers organic cotton; regular cotton is one of the worst crops for pesticides etc.

    My point is that AA is shitty but all the alternatives seem worse.

    Knickers are not feasible to thrift, or even really to sew (elastic is a bitch for a beginner). I need to wear them.

    Can anyone please suggest an ethical alternative for less than $15 a pair?

    (I’m not being disingenuous or trying to trolll; I’m genuinely pleading for information.)

  18. “I don’t let dudes with pornstaches piss oon me. That’s an ironclad rule of mine.”

    Bwahahahahaha. That might even qualify as a Commandment!

  19. The people who think they’re being virtuous by buying AA think that labor exploitation is worth taking a stand on (it is!) but gender exploitation isn’t (oops!)

    Addendum: this is not to say that people can’t buy AA because they have weighed the options and feel (as Smashing Ginger writes above) that they might be the best alternative in a world of shitty options. You just shouldn’t feel virtuous about it.

  20. Agree with many points above…I also agree with the pp who said the clothes fit like crap. Unless of course, you have the same body type as the objectified young women in their ads- Which around 99% of us do not.

  21. While I do not find this ad nearly so icky as it appears that other people do (She’s fully clothed! That’s kind of a feat for tons of artsy/hipster/”high fashion”/whatever brands), in general I find AA’s advertising repugnant, but their clothing and manufacturing mission is pretty great.

    I’m far from a slender creature, and I’ve found that some things in the basic, unisex category fit me pretty well, and my grandmother loves their yoga pants. It’s beyond me, though, why their advertising is SO sexed-up when they could arguably make more money by broadening their message from “we make sustainable, responsibly made clothing in many colors for young hotties” to “We make sustainable, responsibly made clothing in many colors.”

  22. What Snarky said. All American Apparel ads have very clear rapey undertones. It’s not the semi-nudity that particularly bothers me about thm – sadly that’s everywhere, you can’t avoid it – but what makes AA especially objectionable is that they literally seem incapable of making a print ad that doesn’t clearly imply that women enjoy being humiliated and abused. When people say they have a porny subtext that’s what they mean – it’s not just that the ads are sexual, it’s a very specific sort of sexuality being depicted, one in which women’s only purpose is to please men, and women are supposed to derive whatever paltry sense of self-worth they have from the fact that random men deem them hot enough to humiliate and abuse.

    I’m a rock journalist, and you know what AA ads always make me think of, the whole tone and visual language of them? Groupies. It’s nasty, evil, depressing shit, and I resent having it shoved in my face when I’m trying to get to work or go shopping. In fact, I resent the presence of porny imagery in public space in general. I’m not one for banning porn altogether, but I really don’t think it belongs in public space, ever. It should be something that people have to go out of their way to seek out. Making it part of our public space makes that public space more hostile and more dangerous for women.

  23. @viajera – I once got given an AA shirt for working on a political campaign for an extremely progressive candidate (hint – Gavin Newsome ended up beating him, and Gavin was the conservative in that race). I had a really hard time not having a meltdown and yelling at people in the campaign office about how the progressive platform really ought to include the concept that women are people, you know?

    Also their shirts suck. The cotton is crappy, they’re cut oddly, and they don’t last. Not that I would ever buy one anyway, but you know, just add “shitty product” to the list of why they suck as a company.

  24. I’m a woman and I can’t relate to the woman in the ad at all. For one thing, she doesn’t strike me as sexy (and that’s just MHO, not saying that other people wouldn’t or shouldn’t think she’s sexy). What annoys me is that she has to be bent to simulate curves, and if they want to show curves, can’t they get an actual curvy woman? The position of the hair didn’t make it look as if it were being yanked; wouldn’t it be straight out in that case?
    No, it seemed to me that the woman here is being used as a pencil line and made to appear wavy (as oldfeminist said) and the ponytail is just an extension of that.

    Any kind of an ad that only has thin/young women in it, whether a store display, magazine cover, or any kind of item or service, is sending me the message: “This product is not meant for you”. I don’t feel trivialized as a woman; I feel consigned to the shadows of anonymity and invisiblity.

  25. As another poster pointed out, this ad is pretty tame compared to past ads. But it sill has that dirty old man fantasy vibe that AA seems so happy to cater to.

    What makes me uncomfortable about AA is that their models look so very young. I don’t like the sexualization of children and AA skirts very close to it.

    I’ve seen the stores in NYC and they always look empty. There is never anyone in them. Yet they must have customers. Its really strange.

  26. ’ve seen the stores in NYC and they always look empty. There is never anyone in them. Yet they must have customers. Its really strange.

    I know. And I NEVER see people wandering the streets in shiny leggings or backless spandex body suits or the various other assorted horrors they sell. I’m half-convinced their only actual profit is from t-shirts, and the rest of their merchandise is for show.

  27. I definitely agree with sweet machine’s feelings about that ad, though I doubt I could have come up with such specific reasons for my dislike of it.

    Thanks for the link to Decent Exposures. I like what I’m seeing there, I think I’ll be sending some business their way.

  28. Yes, AA has some porny-type ads, that is true, but the ponytail controversy, I just don’t see. I think it’s because my hair looks like the model’s and I wear it in a ponytail like that all the time, and OH the best way to revive myself after a long stretch of reading is a good ol’ upward tug on the ponytail. Better than caffiene.

    But I really wanted to address the issue of her name, Alanna, at the top of the ad. I can’t agree more with Alibelle, that even though the model’s name is presented, instead of making her seem more individuated and more “real,” it sort of seems to make the image more abstract, more artificial. I don’t know why that would be, necessarily, but that’s my feeling. Artificial name attached to artificial pose = not a real person? Broken down doll? Uncanny valley? It doesn’t make me feel so unsafe as it makes me feel guilty.

  29. The fact that the ad was on the side of a bus (public transportation I assume) provides an implicit endorsement or acceptance of the image by the folks who bring you public transportation. Has it come to this? So broke that they have to whore themselves to get funding for public transportation?

    A fun project for an art class or communication group might be making, distributing and displaying posters of a man posed exactly the same way, in stretchy bike shorts and a neck tie. Nothing else. He could be pulling on his neck tie.

    Or would that simply look assholey?

    Might at least provoke debate on the playground.

  30. Krishji, I was thinking about that too. For me it’s reminding me of ads for escort services or phone sex, along the lines of ‘Brandi can’t wait to get your call’, that sort of thing. (I mean, not that ‘Alanna’—or ‘Brandi’ for that matter–aren’t real names.) Something like that. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it, but, yeah, it’s connected with the display aspect of it, the idea of women and the sexual services they provide as being for sale and in a window, and that they come in different models for different sexual tastes. And if you (the het male customer, of course) don’t like one there’s always another. I can imagine a pimp saying to a potential customer, ‘Well maybe Alanna’s more to your tastes’ and then running down her ‘features’, like she’s a Porsche or something.

    I’m having an awfully hard time articulating that, though. Any ideas?

    I don’t know that it makes me feel guilty, though I get why it might–we’re being forced to a point of view we don’t agree with, one that actively does people like us (by which I mean women) harm. It’s a weird place to find yourself in. It’s manipulative, really, kind of like passive aggression is, though I don’t know if it’s designed to make women feel shitty or is simply ignoring women’s perceptions altogether as irrelevant.


  31. Oh and yeah. Coincidentally enough I found myself researching AA and their asshole founder the other day. So I’ll HEARTILY second DBN’s hatred of Dov Charney.

  32. I think you’ve actually done a really good job of articulating what I, myself, failed to articulate, Thalia!

    Another parallel could be those horrible old airline ads (“I’m Brooke – come fly me!) which were the ultimate usage of a woman’s name as objectification. Alanna comes with a pencil dress, but Krishji comes with a windbreaker. Ugh! I didn’t know I’d creep myself out so easily!

  33. When I see her name on the thing all I can think of are Ikea products, like Billy the bookcase, or Ingo, the table. (Except I think those names are kindof cute, because, y’know, it’s furniture and they are usually weird scandinavian names.) Here we have: Alanna the ugly ass black dress that will make you look like a sexual object ripe for the picking.

    (Totally OT I now have this song in my head.

  34. “Alanna can be folded into a variety of different positions and broken down into pieces for easy under-the-bed storage. Also comes in blonde and red models. Sunglasses not included.”

  35. I’m in a foul mood. I’m pretty exhausted mentally these days with overt sexism shoved in my face from all sides. I’m not a sex toy, I’m not an incubator, and I’m not a wall flower. This ad just pushed me to the ARGH side. How the fuck does this sell a dress and the who hell does it sell it to? AA can suck it.

  36. Gahhh.

    What annoys me as a reluctant hipster type is that I would totally buy and wear some of their more colorful clothes, if they bothered marketing them TO ME. Not to the straight, cisgender boys that this add seems to be addressing.

    I hate that as a woman, I’m not addressed directly (as in, “hey! this is a sexy dress”) but rather through a presumed male presence (“hey! Tons of men are finding this sexy RIGHT NOW. This will clearly inform your decision to buy a new pencil dress”).

    Also, I resent that they’re marketing themselves as “subversive,” as Snarky’s said. Dudes? Nothing is more bromidic than objectification.

  37. This hit home for me this morning, too, for some reason. Thanks for the commentary. Naming the problem, examining it, condemning it–this is good. I have no more energy today to say more than that, but I’m grateful to see your words.

  38. I think part of the creepiness of this ad is because it is toned down from their other ads. Like, a picture of a woman splayed out in the lordosis position gets “oh, good, she’s got clothes on, this time”. And you’re grossed out for all the blow-up doll-y overtones, but don’t feel quite right getting too upset, because you know how much worse it could be, and everyone rolls their eyes because oh lordy, you’re upset over something so tame… so now you’re really upset because that’s not fucking tame! goddamnit! Only in a very wrong sort of society is that sort of thing the PG alternative.

    The ponytail tug and ass in the air remind me very specifically of one of the choreographed dance memes going around Sao Paulo ten years ago that my friend told me she learned while she was there (apparently the Brazilians are/were big into the choreographed dances to specific songs – think The Macarena, but every freakin’ song had one). It was to a song called “El Tigrau” and was basically a guy singing about being a tiger and coming to get you, ladies. The dance itself was a pantomime of a sexual assault on a dance floor. I don’t remember all of it, but the part that stuck with me included the man yanking the girls head back by her ponytail from behind -hard-, and then double-slapping her ass; then she’d spin around and double-slap his face. Choreographed to the music. An entire nightclub of people doing this at the same time.

  39. This ad is at the top of the escalator at my primary El station and JUST YESTERDAY as my husband and I were on our way to dinner with friends, I turned to him and told him that I hated this ad more than the other, more naked AA ads. Part of it is that it is RIGHT THERE IN MY FACE when I’m trying to go about my daily business, reminding me of exactly where in the power hierarchy women belong. Other people have already articulated the reasons why I hate this ad: she’s presenting her ass like a baboon in heat; she’s even pulling her own hair! All the dudes have to do is climb on and go for a ride! UGH.

    Timely post, Sweet Machine. Thanks for making me feel a little less crazy for reacting so strongly to this ad.

  40. Krishji – would you appreciate it if some guy came along and did the hard pony tail tug without your permission? That’s what this ad is selling. Her pony tail is a useful handhold to manipulate her into whatever position the guy wants. She’s even holding it up in offering to the male viewer for him to grab. That’s why it’s offensive – there is a strong implication of violence when you combine that offering of her hair as a way to subdue her with her pose (knees already bent, ankles crossed so she can’t crawl away).


  41. Adman musing to self: The vertical lines are placed precisely & intentionally, giving the illusion that the object under examination is skewered firmly in place. The hind stake, or pole, isn’t ACTUALLY coming out of her ass–that would just be gross, right?

  42. Thanks all for the take on AA. Not feeling like I have anything smart to add right now, but thanks.

    The lemming-master hold that AA has on some crowds (I’m thinking of college campuses here) is really annoying. Not to mention sartorially tiresome. Glad there are a few more non-fans out there.

    I think it was last April Fool’s that the East Bay Express alt-weekly ran a headline something like this: “UC Berkeley now brought to you by American Apparel.” It went on something to the effect of neon- and/or pastel-colored hoodies are now mandatory for enrollment in Comp 101 …

  43. So…the display of this image on the walls of a workplace could contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment, but it is unproblematic in a public setting. On the other hand, a recent town ordinance required the removal of a large KFC bucket (high on a pole over the restaurant near the freeway), which has been a landmark for 40+ years. Suddenly, the bucket became an “eyesore”.

    EYESORE? We should be offended by the sight of a big bucket of fried chicken, but…


    Will now take a break. Seems I’ve reached my pointing-out-crap quota for the week.

  44. @RNigade … that’s a good point. If it would be considered “hostile work environment” at work, maybe such images on billboards — where, by design, they’re almost impossible to avoid seeing — constitute “hostile life environment.”

  45. come on guiz, american apparal is the hip, indie thing to wear. i mean, they advertise on pitchfork all the time! the ads that objectify woman are a triumph of artistry! also, Dov Charney only acts like an overgrown child becuase thats how he reaches the youth, man.

    I always found these ads to be bizarre and uncomfortable.

    Also, the model looks like she’s trying to be a human sine wave.

  46. I had never heard about AA until a couple years ago, not being a huge magazine fan and not having an AA Store in my town.

    I remember the first time, I had bought a magazine because I was flying. I remember flipping to the back and just staring.

    For about 15 mins I couldn’t figure out, when I had bought a flesh mag. I think in the end I ended up googling AA and was shocked to find out they were trying to sell me clothing.

    Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks bad things about their advertising.

  47. I’ve been thinking about the wording, since it was bothering me too. I don’t think the problem is the name; it’s the complete lack of verb. “Alanna is in…” would be so much less icky than “Alanna in…” “Alanna in” *isn’t* anything. She’s a void, an object, etc. She doesn’t even have enough agency to commit the most basic verb in the English language, that of being. Apparently, AA can’t even imagine “Alanna slinks along the floor in…” or “Alanna stretches in…” which are admittedly porny, but at least THINGS PEOPLE DO.

  48. @parsec… that’s really interesting. I totally missed it because I assumed that AA was styling the ad sort of like a photo and caption.

    But now that I think about it, I feel like the missing “is” does further the sense that Alanna is an object being used in conjunction with the dress to sell…something. I’m not sure if I’d rather they remove her name, because it would add to her anonymity. But on the other hand, at least then it would function more like a regular ad in which the clothing is for sale and the model is lending her agency to help sell the clothing. Huh.

  49. “…it would function more like a regular ad in which the clothing is for sale and the model is lending her agency…”

    Oops. Not “lending.” More like “using.”

  50. “Knickers are not feasible to thrift, or even really to sew (elastic is a bitch for a beginner). I need to wear them.”

    Don’t let elastic scare you off; making your own is always a good ethical choice, especially if you’re recycling old t-shirts in the process.
    Or search “panties” at Wardrobe Refashion–some there are pretty fabulous.

  51. The thing I notice is that although they’re ostensibly advertising the dress, you can’t see much of it. The only visible characteristic of this dress is that it’s skin-tight. The model’s silhouette is the same as if she were naked. That’s part of why it combines so creepily with the pose.

  52. I don’t understand the appeal of AA apparel in the first place. Maybe if you’re really into hoodies. This ad doesn’t change my mind.

  53. @DBN: Do you find that AA’s clothing is like a bad replica of Original Au coton’s clothes from the 80s/early 90s? I’m sure that it had to have influenced Charney, as some of the stuff reminds me of clothes I wore in junior high (and yes, Original au coton was a favorite of mine back then).

    And he’s Safdie’s nephew??? I had no idea…

    As you said, sad representation of Montreal he is.

  54. @ DRST – Man, way to ruin my favorite wake-up technique! Now Ima have nightmares. Maybe forced to switch to headbands.

    @ q – Awesome link! I have been terrified to sew my own undapants, but now, no longer!

  55. Thanks, slythwolf. I’ve seen ads for Decent Exposures before, but I thought they only did nursing/maternity bras. I’m really pleased to have another option, especially one that’s woman-run and more local for me.

    It also just occurred to me to search Etsy, and I found some pricier but cuter handmade organic underwear there.

  56. The thing I notice is that although they’re ostensibly advertising the dress, you can’t see much of it.

    This. We don’t have AA here so I have no idea about the rest of their mojo (sounds ooky to me!), but I noticed this as well, particularly because the text says “scoop back pencil dress”. Where is this scoop back? If that is a (the?) feature of the dress, why can’t I see it in the ad? Its like saying “these jeans come with an awesome sequinned motif on the back pockets”, and then not letting me see them…

  57. Holy shit, I’ve heard of this company but never seen their ads – have you seen the ad scrollbar at their website?? Words (almost) fail.

    It’s the closest thing to amateur porn I’ve ever seen as advertising – um, holy fucking shit. I am literally siting here with my mouth open, because I can’t actually believe what I’m seeing on the screen.

    I almost hesitate to post this, because I know there are creeps out there who are going to head over and ogle and wank and just fucking ew.

  58. In my part of NYC, the Spike TV ads for “Entourage” seem to be everywhere. Each one has one of the characters on the show in front with half of two bikini-wearing women cut off on either side in the background. The tagline reads “now every man can get some.” As in, if you are unable to find a woman who willingly would like to have sex with you, we the Patriarchy will supply you with one.

    Recently someone put stickers on some of them reading “This is what rape culture looks like” and someone wrote on one of the half-women “I deserve a face. And a better job,” so there was a little humanity-restoring moment. Then I saw like ten more that day. Grrr.

  59. You know, with all the emphasis on women staying young and thin so as to be objectified for the male gaze, it is an act of almost unparalleled subversion to be over 40 and fat unapologetically.

  60. As a person with a sexually violent past experience this ad makes me sick. It makes me sad. It makes me shaky and queasy and I have to look away, but then I have to look back. I look to wallow in it. I look to punish myself. I look to inoculate myself to its horror so that I can become a little harder and live in this culture/society and function.

    The line I feel the most is “I take off my “just make it through your day blinkers” and look around me in horror.”

    I wear those blinders everyday just to cope…except for when I can’t and then I feel bad that I hid. I feel bad because for as long as I was hiding I wasn’t fighting. I come here and I read, so I know I’m not alone, so I know someone is doing something. Because I seem incapable and I hate myself a little for it.

  61. First impression: if it’s a scoop back dress, why don’t they show the scoop?
    Second impression: great, now I’m stuck on that Robert Palmer song.

    I occasionally sell custom printed t-shirts, and choosing a manufacturer to buy from is pretty difficult. The only one I’ve found so far that approaches AA’s practices (wage/safety/environment-wise) is Alternative Apparel – but their shirts are prohibitively priced even before print costs come in. I’m holding off on another print run until I can find a suitable compromise; haven’t had much luck.

  62. This really resonated. That “not safe” feeling, I get so much. I remember once I was walking down a public street in the evening, by myself, when I came across an ad on a bus stop for something. Heck, I forget what. All I remember is it had a man and a woman in it, and the woman looked like a sex bot, and the intense gaze the man was giving her was akin to that a cat gets just before it pounces on something small and about to be eaten.

    Suddenly, I forgot I was a person on a public street and remembered I was a woman alone.

    I didn’t really feel like buying whatever they were advertising (clothes or perfume or something), but the ad saw to it I didn’t finish my journey with as much confidence as I’d started it with. Hey, what a powerful ad! Powerfully misogynist.

    If only my fat was an actual violence deterrent in reality like it is in rape apologist fantasies. It’d be easy to be a woman if the world worked the way they thought it did– all we’d have to do is just all of us get fat. Of course, those that can’t will be SOL but in Misogynyland everyone can get fat if they don’t exercise and eat their baby donuts.


  63. If they’re gonna advertise a dress, then ADVERTISE A DRESS. So that WE CAN SEE THE DRESS. I can’t see the dress in question, so I can’t make an informed judgement so…

    It saddens me to admit it, but something like this would just woosh past my perceptions. Wouldn’t even get filed into my brain, just tossed aside because it reads as “not for me, of no concern”. It’s just one more subconsiously-ignored image out of the dozens and hundreds and thousands that have passed through my perception. It’s a defensive development. If I dismiss it, it can’t hurt me or make me feel like less of a person for daring to be fat.

    I think I’m going to try to pay closer attention. And carry around a big Sharpie marker in my purse, too.

  64. This ads target women, by promising us we too can be the focus of sexual objectification and violence! Ooooooh, us lucky women! And yet, it sells. Like Tucker Max sells. And we live in this dystopic view of sexuality and femininity, where violence is sexy, and sex is violent.

    Yeah, that was totes Defining Rape Culture 101: Why it is bad. Sometimes, though, you just have to call a spade a spade. This is vile, and the culture that spawns it is vile, too.

    I am going to go kiss my dogs and eat a cookie that my mother made with love, because I need to reconnect with the non-vile world.

  65. Thank you Sweet Machine, this ad got through my “surviving the day” blinders too, and this post helped me put my finger on why. I see this ad at least once a day on the side of a bus, and every. single. time. I get creeped out, much more than I do from the usual AA pornified advertising. Maybe it’s because I keep seeing this ad on the sides of buses (even the new electronic billboard buses, ftw! Yes, this ad is even BETTER when it’s all pixelated and in LED lights), but it gives me the same feeling I got from seeing the “Deaf Girls Can’t Hear You Coming” bus ads a while back. Anyone? Just me?

  66. @Tessie
    ??? The woman in the ad has Cat Butt.

    Oooh… she’s presenting!

    @All Women Stalker
    Most ads seem to sell sex more than the product. Women are objectified.

    The thing that gets me about it is you can’t even see the fucking dress, or how it looks when you aren’t in a position that no one ever would be in during normal day to day life.

    Right. As a seamstress I actually am interested in how clothes are constructed and design lines and what they actually look like. I notice many ads barely show the clothes. They show the vulva lips through the panties or the bared and “presented” asscheeks or the nip-slips or the sexy lady who looks underaged – yuck! – or drunk or abused or porny.

    I’m sad so many real, actual ladies try to grab for the brass ring of looking like the ads and being those women.

    I notice their clothes don’t really hold up. I don’t grab up their shirts when I go shopping for t-shirts in thrift stores.

    (I used to like Alternative Apparel – just now I clicked over and saw they’re going for the drugged-out waif look too! In one shot her pervy boyfriend is all holding her arm aggressively! Misogyny FTW!)

  67. What fucking cities are allowing this ad on the sides of their public buses? I’ll write them a letter. At least they won’t be able to say that no one complained.

  68. or abused or porny.

    On a lighter note, my first-glance reading of this I thought, “Hmm, I’ve seen all these ads with the bare ass-cheeks and underage-looking women, but never the one with the drunk pony. I want to see the drunk pony.”

  69. This ad does a poor job of pretending to be an advert for a dress. You can’t even see the dress! I can see that it looks uncomfortable as hell, but other than that have no sense of it.

  70. I’m sitting reading this post while wearing a pair of American Apparel leggings. I didn’t know about the advertising (I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an American Apparel ad before) or the sexual harassment or the union busting (not that the last point surprises me). I did know that they were “made in downtown LA” and that the employment conditions are better than many textiles factories in Asia. Unlike many here, I also find them a good product for the price. However, I can’t say I ever felt “virtuous” for wearing them – mainly because conventionally grown cotton is a very environmentally unfriendly product. Now I have a few more reasons to add to the list but I’m not sure there’s a smoking gun that would make me boycott them. They seem a less shitty alternative to much of what’s out there.

    I don’t find the ad in this post all that offensive – some of the ones that you’ve linked to are far worse.

  71. Kelly:

    ??? The woman in the ad has Cat Butt.

    Oooh… she’s presenting!”

    Oh, OK then. I was afraid that Cat Butt meant that she was going to wait until I was reading, then walk on my book while repeatedly sticking her butt in my face.

  72. Oh, OK then. I was afraid that Cat Butt meant that she was going to wait until I was reading, then walk on my book while repeatedly sticking her butt in my face.

    I live with two cats. That was totally how I read “Cat Butt”, ’cause that’s how it happens at least daily in my house.

  73. Wait. Now I’ve got “cat butt is a cat but he’s got butt-ness in his veins” in my head and that is JUST NOT RIGHT.

    Also, this thread is making me seriously appreciate moving out of the city 10 years ago to a more rural area. I’m feeling very lucky and grateful today for the fact that this kind of crap is no longer in my face on a (very) regular basis.

  74. The Other Caitlin: “I don’t find the ad in this post all that offensive – some of the ones that you’ve linked to are far worse.”

    I do understand your point–some ads are more overtly offensive & mostly focus on a female crotch, for instance–and I respect your perspective. But perhaps the more subtle ads do as much or more damage over the long run, especially when they are larger than life in public spaces. The crotch-in-your-face (overt) ads in public places could more easily provoke public ire. If something is less “offensive”, however, people feel more reluctant to complain. (“After all, it could be worse”, goes the thinking).

    The rape culture is socially constructed (and reconstructed) in a million subtle ways, such as through the 1000s of images young people grow up with and are surrounded by almost daily–especially images/messages that combine violence with sexuality–within the context(s) of social institutions & educational systems that actively discourage critical thinking.

    So a single image such as the one in the ad, by itself, may be just a dumb ass (albeit carefully contrived) photo. It is the whole cultural context that makes the ad problematic.

    Again, this kind of image would be viewed, legally in the U.S. anyway–as contributing to a hostile work environment. But people (including children) are just supposed to put up with this shit–repeatedly–when it is in our public living spaces? That’s crap.

  75. “it gives me the same feeling I got from seeing the “Deaf Girls Can’t Hear You Coming” bus ads a while back. Anyone? Just me?”
    God. Please, please, tell me you are kidding about that, GwenOphelia. The fact that someone would make an ad advocating raping deaf women just…what company was this? So I can never, ever, EVER buy their products, and possibly track down the ad man who decided that was a good idea and throw raw liver at him while beating him with a spiked baseball bat. Something like this that is vaguely oblique in its “rape me” message is disgusting enough, but that…*starts searching for raw liver and spiked baseball bat*

    On topic, I really hate this ad. Even more than the pose, the thing with her hair bugs me. Mainly because, when I was a little girl with long pigtail braids, boys used to yank on them to make me cry, and now that I’m a young woman with a long ponytail, I get asshole boys pulling on it “to see if it’s real”-and I’m a bitch for telling them to knock it the fuck off, because “they were just joking around.” Yay for the patriarchy and their fucking “If you’re a woman your body is public property for a man to do with as he wishes” bullshit. So pulling on hair is not a good way to sell stuff to me, American Apparel. Thanks for being a company that I almost could have supported with your labor practices, then screwing it up with your disgusting, misogynistic advertising and your asshole CEO. Congrats, Dov Charney. Not only would I not piss on you if you were on fire, I would toast marshmallows- an honor previously reserved only for fascist right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

  76. Thank goodness Tucker Max was a theater flop. It comes out on video this month, though. Blech.

    I’m guessing it will be released in one of those “unrated” (aka soft porn) versions? *shudder* A friend sent me a link to one of that jackass’s stories. Absolutely disgusting and appalling.

  77. @RNigade

    Your comments times one thousand! Just, everything you’ve said is so right.

    “But people (including children) are just supposed to put up with this shit–repeatedly–when it is in our public living spaces? That’s crap.”

    Right; I think I’m doing a good job raising my children, but images like this one are hard to discuss or help raise awareness of with my kiddos because of any “subtlety” (thought it’s not so subtle when smart people start taking it apart) and the ubiquitous nature of them – mostly the latter. I’m willing and able to have these discussions – and we do – but sometimes I feel deflated about how much of this stuff is out there.

  78. Ah, sorry, I thought the “Deaf Girls…” ad was a national ad campaign, I would have provided more information if I’d known it was just Chicago. Alas, work today is too crazy for me to go into a full breakdown (complete with fire-spitting and loud cursing), but Dr. Google is a good resource if anyone wants to know more about the ad/the protest/etc.

  79. It’s so sad that this poster is what passes for normal in clothing advertisements.

    Last night I saw a clothing billboard that stopped me dead in my tracks with amazement because the female model was solidly built and had noticeably developed biceps. Then I realized that the ad was for Olympic-themed sports clothing and she was probably an athlete. On second glance, she hardly had what you could call a non-normative body type, but it’s so rare to see a woman looking strong and confident in a clothing ad that the image just jumped right out at me.

  80. One reason this makes me feel so unsafe is the pulled ponytail. I’m in the UK, so I don’t know whether any USians can speak to whether you also got this lecture, but part of the ‘stay safe’ (ie, don’t carelessly get yourself raped) message we had at school was about high ponytails like that. You shouldn’t wear them when you’re out after dark or jogging or whatever, because someone might use it to grab you.

    AND SHE’S HOLDING IT OUT. (It’s also looks like CGI hair)

  81. Thanks for enlightening me, SM. Well, makes me glad I’ve never even heard of Tucker Max, because it means the ad campaign didn’t work in the most serious way. And Kelly and RNigade, I could not agree with you guys more. It’s so sadly ironic that we live in a country full of Moral Guardians who try to ban Shel Silverstien and Judy Blume, burn Harry Potter, decry video games and censor art in the name of “protecting the children”- but if you ever asked them to do jack-shit about porn-tastic, rape-friendly misogynistic ads like this one appearing everywhere, including where the children have to see them every day they’d laugh at you like you were crazy. I guess as long as it’s a big company’s advertisement instead of an artist, they’re ok with nasty shit like this. And Essen, we were told the thing about the ponytails too, two years ago in health class. I live out in the boondocks, but when I go to Denver next year for college I’m always going to wear mine in a bun or up in a claw clip when I’m out alone at night for that very reason.

  82. I live out in the boondocks, but when I go to Denver next year for college I’m always going to wear mine in a bun or up in a claw clip when I’m out alone at night for that very reason.

    FWIW, I’ve lived in big cities my whole life, wander around at night by myself, and regularly wear my hair in a pony tail as do most women I know. Certainly, take any precautions that make you feel more comfortable including that one. At the same time, I think that particular piece of advice is also one that is used as a way of making women feel constricted and limiting their movements. Which may or may not be something that affects your own personal calculus, just wanted to say that I don’t think it’s universally-thought-out maxim for safety either.

  83. Now I feel like a jerk for that last comment. I don’t want to diss any safety procedures people feel more comfortable with. Just wanted to say that if you’re told that and LIKE wearing your hair in a pony tail and DON’T necessarily end up feeling more safe when you don’t, plenty of us feel the same way.

  84. Ahh, thanks, LilahMorgan. The way they told it to us in health kind of scared me a bit, tbh, and with the aformentioned boys pulling on braids and ponytails in an “innocent” manner leaving me a bit sensitive to the subject, well, the effect was perhaps a bit stronger than they intended. I tend to wear it up-up more often anyways (because ponytails don’t go so well with my Steampunk/Victorian-goth style), but I like to know I have the freedom to wear it however I like without fear of it being grabbed.

  85. @RNigade I accept your points. I was in no way saying that just because I personally didn’t have a visceral reaction against the ad, that this meant it was hunky-dorey. I didn’t personally find it especially offensive, but I can accept that others might, and I can also see how it fits into a wider culture.

  86. @The Other Caitlin–Understood. I hope you didn’t feel like I was piling onto you for your honest comment. To contextualize my own strong reaction a bit more: I live an intentionally protected existence, in some ways, & hence I very seldom encounter images such as the one in the AA ad. Mine is (perhaps) not unlike the way a 19th century time traveler to this culture might experience it.

  87. @RNigade No offence taken! I didn’t feel you were particularly laying into me., just discussing ideas and reactions. Besides, I already had the baptism of fire with snarky comments on the BMI project post six months ago and I’m still here. ;-)

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