American Apparel doesn’t exactly have a good rep in many feminist circles—its notoriously sexist advertisements (and predatory founder) have definitely made me a little weary of buying my clothes there.
The company has lowered itself to our expectations once again this week with the U.K. launch of its racy “School Days” campaign, which features young women posing provocatively (the usual) in various school settings (not quite the usual). In case we needed reinforcement on the whole theme of sexualizing youth, two of the campaign’s products are called the “Lolita Skirt” and the “Lolita Top,” names which clearly pay homage to the sexualized schoolgirl of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel.
Now, I know that it’s important for young adolescents to explore their sexualities—that is an essential part of growing up. But this ad campaign goes well beyond “promoting healthy sexuality”—one photo posted on American Apparel’s U.K Instagram featured a young woman in a short pleated skirt, leaned over to very clearly reveal her underwear. Maybe I should revise—the photograph was not of the woman, rather, it was a photo of her ass. Dehumanizing objectification of women’s bodies is not the same thing as “promoting healthy sexuality.” The photo—which prompted some harsh (and well deserved) backlash—has since been taken down, but is still being circulated on social media, with users calling the ad “sexist,” “underage porn,” and “dangerous misogyny.”
Emilie Lawrence, who first posted a screenshot of the ad, definitely had something to say about it. “The way in which American Apparel objectify and sexualize female bodies is damaging and rooted in patriarchal notions about a woman’s worth. [Ads] like this reduce women down to little more than body parts to be claimed, and reinforce idea that our primary purpose is to be appealing to men.”
It is a sad truth that, in our culture, sex sells. And it sells really well. As a result, American Apparel doesn’t have much motivation to change its ways. As potential customers, I hope you will join me in letting them know that there are, in fact, negative consequences that arise when they choose to hyper-sexualize and dehumanize young women. Unless they change their advertising choices, they will not be seeing any of my business.