I like the conversations American Apparel inevitably starts whenever it comes out with a new advertising campaign. I'm not being snarky—some of the most radical (meaning at the root of) discussions about feminism I enter into start because American Apparel can't seem to stop. Well (and here comes the snark), guess what? AA still can't let go of its naked-ladies-trying-to-sell-me-the-clothes-they-used-to-be-wearing style, and new campaigns (banned in the US so far) are adding pubic hair to the already fraught mix of issues involved in these ads. So let's get to talkin'. (Assume that picture links in this post will be NSFW.)
Here is the ad, apparently featured in French magazine Purple, selling the underwear the model is wearing.
This is not the first time American Apparel has featured models with pubic hair, but this is the first time I've noticed the commentary surrounding it (none of which, let me just say, points out that this model obviously DOES lady-scape). The article that drew my attention to the ad wondered if this was AA's "sleaziest ad ever," and another warned viewers that looking at it might make them queasy. When I sent this link around Bitch HQ, we asked each other if we were "supposed to be" shocked by pubic hair. 'Cause folks sure seem to be elsewhere...
Let's start here: No. We are not shocked by pubic hair. Does American Apparel want us to be shocked? Absolutely. It wants pubic hair to be the thing in this advert that is worth looking at (which sounds like poor advertising for a clothing company to me, but that's another story). It wants to become one of the ENDLESS ONSLAUGHT of voices in the fashion world telling women what they should be doing with their body hair in order to be edgy/sexy/beautiful/hip/worthy of wearing pretty clothes. Here's an example, via Fashionista:
"Pubic hair is thought of as gross and undesirable now," says Grose, "It used to just be titillating but now it is thought of as icky, or at least untamed, so it signifies something unruly, slightly gross and out of control…it's a provocative ad."
That was Jessica Grose, editor of Slate's Double X blog. Note that in her quote, there is no further discussion of how all this "gross" and "icky" talk is damaging to a woman's acceptance of how her body hair grows (or doesn't). It's just a statement of her perception of the status quo that uses harsh, judgmental language. Thanks but no thanks, Jess. I was internalizing messages that having pubic hair was dirty long before you spelled it out for me, and it will take more than a "provocative ad" using hair for shock value to prove to me that AA is on my wax-free side all of a sudden.
Which brings us to this: American Apparel loves to make money more than it loves to further a cause, although occasionally one is a helpful boost to the other. In the last year it's been loving/needing it even more than usual. Remember how, like, gay Americans can't get married, and they're sad about it? American Apparel is totally on their side, and you can be too if you buy a t-shirt! A similar dynamic is taking place in this new campaign: You heard it hear first! Pubic hair! It's back in! You're allowed to have it! Just make sure you cover it with OUR underwear!
So I'm keeping my distance. I came to my decisions about when, where and how to rock body hair with zero (in fact, anti-) help from fashion advertising. Hint: Victoria's secret is NOT that she sports a full bush. I'm glad to see a model who got to go a few extra weeks without waxing and still get paid, but I'm not throwing a mainstream-media-loves-pubes party just yet. I'm pretty sure Dov dearest still likes his models young, skinny, and hairless as the day is long.