We have all seen the endless American Apparel billboards, subway ads, bus stop posters, and magazine spreads for this company which primarily makes casual clothing targeted for the 18-25 age group, T-shirts, hoodies, shorts, underwear.
Dov Charney has built an empire mostly because his clothing is very inexpensive, cute, and easy to put together. His big claim to fame is that all of his products are made in the USA; he pays his workers well and even gives them days off for special occasions. What he leaves out is that most of the workers are immigrants or barely out of high school and earn minimum wage.
What is so insidious is his marketing. Some call it genius while others like me, a mother, find it reprehensible. Most of the ads show very little clothing. Instead they show a great deal of nudity showcasing perfectly shaped, airbrushed “Lolita-like” models. Often the girls have names, suggesting to the consumer these girls are just like you! Except, of course, they are not.
Hours were spent in the photo shoot, then more in the photo shop. When looking at the ads, you can almost hear the marketing team, “How can we get this 21-year old to look 13, sexually exploit her looks as much as possible without it seeming as such?”
Obviously, sexy ads are not uncommon in the fashion business. They are the norm. But American Apparel has taken their marketing to new heights of “girl porn.”
The G-rated days of Brook Shields posing in Calvin Klein are long gone.
Whether the models are lying about in their underwear wearing a bra and knee socks while blowing bubble gum or looking seductively into the camera wearing teeny shorts and no top licking a lollipop, they all have the facial features of a 13-year-old.
Other companies employing similar tactics use models that are noticeably older. And that is the difference.
I never gave the billboards much thought despite my driving by them daily.
Then it happened, hence the reason I am writing this post.
My nine- year- old girl, still wearing T-shirts with "I heart my Dog" on them, wanted to ask me a question on our way home from a hike. We were on the freeway. I could tell she was while having a difficult time getting the words out. Finally:
“Mom will I get in trouble if I ask you if a certain word is a bad word?”
“Of course not. You know you can ask me anything.”
She is now squirming. I thought maybe some kid at school had cornered her and said some awful thing about sex. Or made fun of her. Her level of stress kept rising.
“But this is really, really a bad word, a dirty word. But I need to know what it means.”
“Honey, please, it’s okay, I promise.”
“Apparel? That’s it?”
“No. It’s not a bad word at all. It just means clothing.”
“That’s what I t thought. But why is it on those naked signs?”
Then I knew she was referring to the countless American Apparel billboards that line the streets nearly everywhere we live. I wondered how long she had been thinking about this. Not only doubting her own intelligence since she knows the real meaning of the word, but the influence these ads were having on her.
This provided us with a very long “teaching” moment, along with her twin sister, who also had wondered the same thing. In fact, they had been discussing these billboards for a while, their entire circle of girlfriends were.
After our talk, about advertising, sexualizing girls to sell clothes, distorting how the world perceives girls, then swinging around to believing in yourself and steering clear of the media, they both visibly relaxed.
This is a conversation we have had before and will have again.
The sexualization of women has been on the rise for years, to where it is now being called the “pornification” of women. American Apparel is one of the top offenders and gets special points because the ads are clearly directed toward young girls and boys not women or men.
As we excited the freeway, they both said:
“Wow. Those billboards are really inappropriate.”
“And we’d never buy those dumb clothes anyway,” Girl One said.
“Just add it to the list, like McDonalds,” Girl Two said.
Then they both sighed. Almost like, thank god I don’t have to dress like that after all and can still wear my own outfits that I love putting together.
They went on to have a more detailed conversation and looked forward to letting their friends in on the "lie." And I again wondered what else might be troubling them through the media that I was unaware of.
Fortunately, my kids have two parents who talk to them, protect and guide them and are very hands on. My heart goes out to the girls and boys who have no such guidance. The ones I often see roaming around in Hollywood following all the wrong people to get closer to their broken dreams.
The scariest part of this for me was what the girls were thinking and what other girls might be thinking when those child-like eyes are staring down at them, as if to say:
"Oh, you’re ten and not wearing knee socks and panties? Boy, you are so not sexy. What a loser."