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Concealing Anxiety: Advertising Period Underwear

One of the THINX ads that was apparently rejected for its public use of the term "period."

One of the THINX ads that was apparently rejected for its public use of the term “period.”

Perhaps no bodily function inspires as much public awkwardness as menstruation.  A host of consumer goods have long promised to resolve a pantheon of discretely acknowledged bodily realities like body odor, belching, acne, farting, bad breath, and bowel practices, and the success of such products is measured by their very invisibility: that is, nobody cares about your deodorant until you smell foul, we have little to say about toilet paper unless it inflicts injury,  and tampon failures are discussed in only the most delicate company (or reddit).  The market for such personal hygiene products extends back over more than a century, and it is enormously profitable: for instance, in 2014 the ten leading American deodorant brands accounted for $1.06 billion in sales. Read the rest of this entry

American Apparel and the Politics of “Natural Beauty”

The unshorn mannequins in Soho's American Apparel window (image from American Apparel NYC).

The unshorn mannequins in Soho’s American Apparel window (image from American Apparel NYC).

This week an American Apparel store in New York secured a flurry of attention after it installed female mannequins whose sheer lingerie reveal dense pubic hair.  The Valentine’s Day window display in the American Apparel Soho store includes three mannequins in sheer white underwear exposing netherhair and nipples.  The international media attention has focused on American Apparel’s calculated history of “shock” advertising, and delicate sensibilities may stop at this point and choose not to survey the range of the corporation’s provocative advertising, much of which is not-safe-for-work.  American Apparel has been predictably superficial in its defense of the mannequins as symbols of “natural beauty” that confirm the “rawness and realness of sexuality.”  In the hands of American Apparel the unshorn mannequins are marketing mechanisms that are, at best, an ironic illumination of ideological beauty standards.  American Apparel’s mannequins underscore our social uneasiness with deviations from unexpressed feminine beauty ideals; they certainly emphasize how complicated it is to address such deep-seated ideologies in consumer space and in the hands of corporations like American Apparel.

An ad for American Apparel's transgendered and transsexual model search.

An ad for American Apparel’s transgendered and transsexual model search.

American Apparel fancies its mannequins are statements of a novel notion of uncontrived, “natural” beauty.  In a press release last week the company indicated that “American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine’s Day window continues that celebration.  We created it to invite passerbys to explore the idea of what is ‘sexy’ and consider their comfort with the natural female form.”  American Apparel’s defense of the “natural female form” is a strategically uplifting celebration of “real life” bodies, and perhaps it inches away from the notion of beauty materialized in super model aesthetics.  For instance, last year the firm ran ads with a transgendered model and was crafting campaigns with more transgendered and transsexual models.  The corporation has likewise long argued that it refutes the clothing industry’s ideological notion of beauty, suggesting last week that the hirsute mannequins reflected the philosophy of “our advertisements which avoid many of the photoshopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry.” Read the rest of this entry