Clothing company American Apparel cannot stay away from controversy, especially when it comes to the depiction of female bodies.
The company’s Valentine’s Day lingerie display in New York in 2014 pushed limits by using mannequins with visible nipples and pubic hair.
Not unsurprisingly, people were not receptive to the display. The reasons why are complicated by past issues with the company and advertising, but presumably many people don’t like to see a mannequin with a bush. Because waxing is so in vogue, bare down-theres are considered status quo.
Conversely, the company has now sparked a controversy over the opposite issue as it did with the mannequins. The pubic hair and nipples on models wearing sheer undergarments have been airbrushed off where they were visible before.
Complaints to the company have focused on its perceived “plasticizing” of the models.
On the one hand, a company showing the existence of pubic hair on mannequins and models is revolutionary and applaudable, but the same company has raised concerns about whether the treatment of women in its ads is empowering or exploiting. Several of its ads have been banned in the UK for being too racy and featuring underage models in overtly sexual poses.
Disregarding the (immensely important, just not to this argument) issue of exploitation, it seems that the company can’t win with its depictions of women’s actual physical bodies.
Maybe the recent controversy is suggesting a new trend toward consumers demanding more realistic advertising, but since we aren’t seeing any backlash at other companies who don’t show realistic features in ads it’s unlikely this is an emerging trend.
More likely, no matter what women’s bodies really look like or how advertising portrays them, someone will always be dissatisfied. If advertisements are showing nipples and pubes, they are obscene. If they are airbrushed away, advertising is creating unrealistic body ideals.
What we are really seeing is the continuation of a centuries-long trend that tells us women’s bodies can never be perfect. Women’s bodies are the site of much social turmoil and political argument, and that trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon, but it might be worth noting companies like American Apparel that are at least getting the issues media attention.