American Apparel's Next XL Top Model

Notoriously fatphobic and supremely douche-y clothing retailer American Apparel is conducting a search for an XL model. While the part of me that has never been able to fit into anything beyond an oversized t-shirt at American Apparel is skeptical that XL will actually mean XL in DovCharneyLand (I wear a size 10 and I doubt I could squeeze into a size large there if my life depended on it), the part of me that wants more sizes represented in mainstream fashion and media is cautiously optimistic.

screenshot of the banner from the AA contest website, reads THE NEXT BIG THING in green on a black background
Get it? Because they want a big model!

The contest itself, which asks readers to vote on their favorite XL models, is rife with questionable language (“booty-ful,” for starters) and creepy caps (“the next BIG thing”). In fact, the whole deal has a creepy vibe, complete with a ranking system (women can score between a 1 and 5) and the overall weirdness that is women competing to model for American Apparel, even though they likely know full well that they’ll have to pose for problematic photo shoots and possibly end up suing their boss for harassment if they win. So yeah, it’s dicey.

There is a silver lining of sorts to this objectification cloud though, and her name is Nancy Upton. Feeling similarly put off by the “BIG LADEEZ PLZ” lingo of the campaign (and American Apparel’s general shitty attitude toward fat people), Nancy decided to give AA exactly what they asked for: A “booty-ful” woman who lives up to every fat girl stereotype they are clearly hung up on. Says Nancy:

My name is Nancy Upton. I’m a size 12 and wanted to show American Apparel my fresh face (and full figure). My good friend Shannon Skloss came over to take some “booty-ful” photos of me… But I just couldn’t stop eating.

Nancy’s tumblr (called extra wiggle room in response to AA’s message to women who “need a little extra wiggle room where it counts”) is full of photos of her posing in various levels of dress with various levels of dressing (haha, but seriously she has a bunch of photos of her pouring salad dressing on herself). Behold:

Nancy, a white woman, wears fancy clothes and eats chicken in a pool

Nancy, nude on a table on a bed of lettuce, eating an apple

Nancy in a bathtub full of ranch dressing

The best part? Nancy is winning the contest!

As Jessica Hester said in a recent article for Bitch, “To publicly eat when you’re already fat might be one of the most transgressive behaviors available to the modern woman.” Now Upton’s status as a fat person may be up for debate (she’s a woman in the public eye, so of course people are already discussing the shit out of her body) but the transgression of the photos is striking a chord with a lot of folks, hopefully encouraging them to think twice about American Apparel and their attitudes about fat people in general. So that’s good.

However, Upton is an able-bodied, white, young, conventionally hot woman who is displaying her body on a table to look like a roast pig. It’s complicated! Says Jill at Feministe:

If it was a skinny model on that table, though, I’d be like, “Hey that’s kind of fucked up! Go read some Carol J. Adams and look askance at images of the female body as meat! Women are not food to be consumed by men!” Etc. But it’s not a skinny model on that table; it’s a woman who’s a size 12, and whose body type is routinely compared to animals like pigs and cows.

See? Complicated. Because I agree that if this was a thin woman (or if the photos had been taken by an AA photographer and not styled by Upton herself) the message would be something quite different. And while I hope that Nancy Upton is winning the American Apparel Next BIG Thing contest because people support her willingness to take a stand against the company, she may be winning because she is a hot fat chick who poured salad dressing on her breasts in a bathtub. To be viewed and judged by the wearers of American Apparel. Which is maybe not exactly progress?

What do you think?

by Kelsey Wallace
View profile »

Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

24 Comments Have Been Posted

Yep, it is complex. Just

Yep, it is complex.

Just visited the site and I found it pretty depressing. Lots of beautiful women, competing for what amounts to a gimmick (almost a joke) on the part of AA. If it does open doors to the mainstream, then great, but for now it is most definitely creepy, as you said.

How is size 12 considered XL?

How is size 12 considered XL? or anything nearing fat, for that matter? I'm just terribly confused.

I agree

I'm a size 12, and I don't think most people would describe me as "fat." Of course, maybe this woman is short, and size 12 is big on her frame. Anyway, she's both sexy and hilarious.


In comparison to other models, who are probably more like a size 2, a size 12 is considered "plus size." What's funny is that a size 12 is actually an average size. The model who won the 10th season of America's Next Top Model, Whitney Thompson, was a plus size and she wears a 12-14. It's a ridiculous and unrealistic standard.

I am a healthy, average, normal size 14 ...

and I am on a crusade to convince society that size 14 is HEALTHY and NORMAL. I am personally sick and tired of being fat-shamed when I ask for a size 14 in stores other than American Apparel. This so-called "Progressive" retailer is BANNED from my home and body for its blatant, unapologetic misogyny, as depicted in ads I am trying to get taken off of the "progressive" alternet that knows better than to feature them.

See for yourself at and do not fall for them.

fat girls have the right to


ok, on the one hand, she's a beautiful woman and she's doing some subversive shit to fuck with a repulsively run & advertised company. on the other... she's considered plus size? maybe that's some internalized fatphobia of me but that's not what i think of when i think of a rockin' fat girl.

In the fashion industry, yes,

In the fashion industry, yes, she is plus-size. Anything above like an 8 or a 10 is plus-size in the fashion industry.

Subversion at its finest

Sometimes subversion is a beautiful, beautiful thing. This is one of those times. It's awesome enough to see these wonderful pics up at Bitch, where you'd at least sorta expect them. But to follow the link and see a photo of an arguably plus-sized woman sitting in front of the fridge with two gallons of ice cream pouring chocolate syrup on her face on American Apparel's OWN WEBSITE? Wins the "Most Gleeful Moment I've Experienced in Weeks" award hands down. Is it progress? Damned if I know. Is it a perfect shining moment that I'm gonna savor the hell out of? Yes. Yes it is.

Give me a break

Give me a break on the AA hate. They aren't Abercrombie, or Macy's, or Nordstrom, or H&M, or Target, or the Gap. They don't use sweatshop labor. They don't support conservative anti-gay or anti-woman causes. They don't use anorexic size 0 models. They don't sell thongs or padded bras for children.

They do publicly support gay rights and immigrant rights. They do pay all of their employees (mostly immigrant women) a living wage with full benefits. They are environmentally friendly with an organics line. They're the only large clothing manufacturer that sells mostly (or any, really) unisex clothing.

They do have mostly models that aren't "plus size" according to fashion standards. Is that really a reason to demonize them when they are progressive in almost every other way? It's like bashing your progressive, feminist friend because she eats eggs. Get over it - they're our ally. If you buy clothes from any other major clothing retailer (really - any - it's a ridiculous industry) you're supporting companies that are more anti-feminist and anti-progress than American Apparel.

Sorry, AA does not deserve a break

This snippet (and links to others at the clamor site) from a lengthy investigative piece from the much-missed Clamor,

(Disclosure: Keeley Savoie has previously contributed to Bitch)

is why I personally refuse to support American Apparel, and could care less if they don't support conservative anti-gay or anti-woman causes and treat their employees fairly. Sad to say there is clear evidence that not everyone who has ever worked for AA has been treated fairly. That's like saying that Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher are progressive feminists when I am not so sure that they are ...

One example: I do not like it when Olbermann calls certain women whom I disagree with politically, "Worst persons of the day," for example. Feminism works by even calling out misogyny and sexism aimed at women I disagree with politically, even when it involves calling out the misogynist/sexist I may agree with politically on most all other topics.

Another example: I may despise and challenge Phyllis Schlafly's opinions bashing and trashing feminisim, but I would never hate on her because she is a woman. .

Here is why I am not sure about Bill Maher, even though he happened to have Gloria Steinem on a recent segment of "Real Time ...": Well ... I will have Melissa McEwan explain it better than I can

So there. I get so tired of hearing so-called "progressives" expressing their pro-choice, anti-conservative, pro-gay rights viewpoints while hate-shaming/negatively objectifying women for their "imperfections" in the same breaths. As a social justice activist, I strive to also point out how destructive misogyny is for all in a healthy society.

Are you kidding me?

American Apparel is a business. Just because they support better labor practices doesn't mean they are our ally. Their advertisements are extremely sexist and super creepy. Their owner is an avid capitalist who has publibly stated that he uses more "progressive" means of manufacturing to appeal to the more wealthy population in our country.

Tom's shoe company just explained that their "progressive" business practices are a fantastic marketing opportunity. Giving their shoes for free to impoverished communities is free advertising but and makes all the wealthy hipsters in the US spend spend spend.

They are using our guilt and want to support positive people as a way to get rich.

Their advertising is super creepy and sexist. Using the youngest, thinnest, sickliest looking models they can find to put on their spandex jumpsuits and gold lamme leg warmers and prance around in a big old wharehouse.

The owner has been sued by multiple female employees for sexual harrassment and assault.

The "plus-sized" model. Yes, she is a non-emaciated person who is eating chicken wings and bathing in ranch dressing. That doesn't make her plus sized in my book.

Why does capitalism ruin everything?

"Their advertising is super

"Their advertising is super creepy and sexist. Using the youngest, thinnest, sickliest looking models they can find to put on their spandex jumpsuits and gold lamme leg warmers and prance around in a big old wharehouse."

And usually with their legs spread, in see-through spandex leotards, sometimes laying on the floor with the camera above their face, with a look on their face like they just had sex.

I'm all about female sexuality and expressing it, but not in a marketing way.

Bitch Magazine - as bad as American Apparel?

Yes, they use their pro-worker, pro-immigration, pro-gay, pro-women stances as marketing. Guess who else does? The magazine whose blog you're commenting on.

Calling thin women "sickly" is just as bad as shaming larger women. The fact that American Apparel uses a large proportion of minority and mixed race models makes it an even more questionable criticism.

My point is that every mainstream mid-range or higher-end clothing retailer uses almost exclusively thin models. Does that make it right? Of course not, but singling out American Apparel for such pure hatred is bizarre when they're not even close to the worst offender, and they are uniquely progressive and pro-women in ways that no other large clothing retailer is. Take a look at Banana Republic, Target, Nordstrom, Abercrombie, H&M, or about a hundred other much worse clothing companies (which actually enslave women and children, or come very close).

Yes, their ads are intentionally provocative, kind of like calling a magazine "Bitch". I don't find using female sexuality as marketing "sexist", or else I'd be offended by the ads for vibrators and erotica on the back cover of this magazine.

No it's not like rejecting your feminist friend for eating eggs

It's more like rejecting your friend who supports gay rights and immigrant rights, but thinks that fat people need to walk around the block, and lose some weight. Or even more close to American Apparel's view, it's like trying to convince a person who only found thin girls to be beautiful that fat women also were beautiful, then once they realized that, went on to use degrading faux-positive terms like booty-ful and big stuff. They'll tell you then, "Aww what's wrong, I'm saying nice things about fat women?".In other words, being extremely passive aggressive about their hatred of fat women, and thinking they can hide behind fake compliments towards them.

That is what American Apparel is doing, they're saying "Fine you're upset about us not selling clothes to plus size women? Well we'll have a contest to see who will be our first plus size model!" In the same way a frat house, holds a party for fat women, only to take the opportunity to call them pigs, or make out with them, but tomorrow tell all their guy friends how horrible she was in bed. American Apparel thought they could use this contest, as a way to gain momentum from other people in supporting their anti-fat policy with clothing. They might as well be taking those images of the models, and then posting the winner while saying "Would you want to see this woman in our clothing? Well we don't blame you, we wouldn't either. Hahaha".

So yeah, American Apparel may do good things, give em a gold star! Meanwhile they've shown great disrespect over anyone that's larger than a size 8, and perhaps they don't use Anorexic models, but some of those women may be cutting it close. The point of what Nancy is doing, is to send a message to American Apparel of "I see what you did there." That we're not going to fall for the claims of being admired, we can tell American Apparel could care less about us. If they're desperate for money, so what? The point is, you don't show respect towards women by exoticizing them or using bad puns about them. Like in the style of the frat house guys I mentioned earlier, "Hahaha, boy is she big stuff, roflol, booty-ful bahaha!" It's not respect, it's telling us we care, ah who are we fooling no we don't. It's like how people will exoticfy Black or Asian women by having them wear leopard print clothing. Us fat girls know when we're being played, and we know American Apparel is trying to play us.

Cultural misunderstanding?

It sounds like this is a cultural thing. I really don't think of "bootyful" as an insult and I don't think most young and urban people do, either. Google "bootyful" and you'll find almost nothing but fat-positivity.

I agree that AA could have larger sizes - I own some XL clothing and many of my friends can't buy clothes there - but pouring Internet criticism on them when they actually do try to offer larger sized clothing isn't helping. I'm mixed-race and I've never seen anything racially insensitive at American Apparel, quite the opposite.

These photographs are

These photographs are fantastic. I think "objectification" has an overwhelmingly negative connotation in the feminist blogosphere, and with good reason, but it's important to remember that, like it or not, women are still related to in public media first and foremost as objects. In my opinion, the best way to challenge that relationship is to perform objecthood in a way that subverts one's passivity. This model is performing her own objectification, on her terms, toward the pursuit of her own goals.

Should not judge

People get judged for everything.I really do not care how overweight someone is.If that person is happy leave them alone.People can live the way they want to.

Thanks Casey Mahoney

Your comments over the past

Your comments over the past day or two make it clear that you are not here for the same conversation we are. Please educate yourself by reading the article before posting something completely unhelpful and irrelevant.

A size 12 is XL? No wonder

A size 12 is XL? No wonder nothing ever fits right. What the heck is wrong with people in this industry? Don't they know any real people, only runway models? Go out on the street, into a supermarket, to a PTA meeting or a church service. These places are full of REAL people and not one single size 12 is going to look XL to anyone but you. GET REAL.

Yup. Super complicated.

Yup. Super complicated. Hopefully we can use this as an impetus to discuss our very unhealthy association with body image, and food culture, in this country -- that this woman wins because she gets photographed eating. What about the larger ladies out there that love to eat health food? Or the skinny girls who scarf down McDonald's but have high metabolisms?

Um a chubby girl that like AA clothing

I am 5'1" and about 240lbs and wear a 16/18 and I fit into a lot of AA clothing, definitely more than just an oversized shirt. I'm happy that they are doing an XL because their clothing is of decent quality, well cut and designed, and remakes basics as fashionable. Just a little sidenote, not all us chubs run away from a bodycon fit. They are a business and one I rather buy from then Old Navy or Forever 21.

Why do they need to be so

Why do they need to be so fakely happy about finally realizing that big can be Beautiful? I wished they'd take this as serious as they take there super thin model campaigns. Words like bootyful and full sized fannies is as progressive and modern as calling gays pixie stix or fruity loops. it might be silly and playful but it doesn't tell me that they mean a word of it. It's almost as if they are saying "Look at all these fatties! They must think they are models! Let's snap a few pictures so they hearts don't break and let them leave so the real girls can come in."

As a black teen over 200lbs, I know what it feels like to be comparability less beautiful because I;m not a size two. I went in to AA a year ago with my ultra skinny friend and just frown through the thing. My friend was a size 1 and the store attendant had no trouble fitting her into some classy skinny jeans. i felt almost bad for the woman as she struggled to offer me something to try on without being offensive. They clearly didn't have my size. It was the same in Hollister, American Eagle, Aerocrambie.

Also, I refuse to call them anything until I see more Hispanic, Arabic, and darker skinned African american girls onther posters. These people are pulling one BIG joke.

Half the time i see a picture

Half the time i see a picture of an oversize model, she's eating ! And not drinking a light coke, but eating spaghettis or desserts or something !!!
I never saw this in any magazine with superthin models ! So, okay they star plus-size women, but these women don't eat all the time ! They've fought hard for recognition !

Add new comment