Nancy Upton read about American Apparel's search for plus-size, "booty-ful" models. She, like many of us, found the contest "offensive," but decided to enter. Nancy had her friend, Shannon Skloss, take pictures of her — bathing in ranch dressing, pouring chocolate sauce directly into her mouth, gorging on chicken. Bring on the awesome.
The images (which Nancy has posted on her tumblr) are provocative, and in this context, challenge American Apparel's mission. As Upton, 24, stares into the camera with a chicken wing in her mouth, it seems as if she's both questioning, This is what you think of "extra large" ladies, isn't it? and also declaring, That's right, I eat. I fucking love wings. Deal with it.
I asked Nancy, via email, how she came up with the idea to have herself photographed smothered in food. She wrote:
I read Margaret's article about the contest on your website and followed the link over. I immediately thought, based on the way it was written, "Wow, they really have zero respect for plus-sized women. They're going to line them up like cattle and make puns about them until they're blue in the face." And then, as corny as it sounds, it just occurred to me that based on their "Hey, come on, fatties, we want you to play, too" tone, wouldn't it be kind of brilliant to respond in a, "Thanks for letting me play, just let me try put down the pizza, first" similar mocking tone. From there, I realized I knew a great photographer, I had a free couple of hours on Sunday and a little extra money in my pocket to drop on some ranch dressing and a chicken.
Nancy says she went grocery shopping just for the shoot, which took place at her mom's house this past Sunday. I asked her what she hopes American Apparel will learn from her visual commentary, and the entire fiasco, and she answered:
I just hope they see a missed opportunity. If they'd gone about the contest differently or, what I think would have been really great, if they had just suddenly start running ads with sexy plus-sized women and simply said, "Now available in sizes through 2XL," the impact would have been huge (no pun intended, believe me) and VERY positive, I think. People would have said, "Wow, good for them! How progressive!" But instead, they used cutesy, tired euphemisms and this faux-chummy supportive tone that a lot of people found cheap and insulting. It smacked of that feeling when someone does something well or does a good deed and then nudges you and goes, "See what I did?"
The absurd part? Nancy doesn't look like an "extra large" person. She looks, quite frankly, normal. Average. The fact that American Apparel has been in business since 1989 and only just now started carrying Nancy's size is what seems abnormal. But when it comes to body image, she says:
I'm sick of "fat" being a dirty word. Fat is a grey area. You can be healthy and have fat. You can be unhealthy and have fat. Fat on your body does not necessarily equal laziness or even medical obesity. Sure, it CAN be an indicator of bad things, but it's really not an assumption you can make when you don't know a person's story or genetic code. I used to play competitive sports and at my healthiest, I ran a seven-minute mile. I also had love handles. That's just the way it's going to be.
It's not about the size of your pants, it's about feeling healthy and happy.
And, most importantly, you can be fucking beautiful and also be fat. I feel like we're more accepting as a society every day, and I think it's time to realize that "fat" doesn't need to be an insult any more. It's just a fact. And you know what? I am, and probably always will be, kinda fat. You know what else? It doesn't bother me, or the men I date, in the slightest.
Today is the last day of the American Apparel contest, and you can vote for Nancy if you feel so inclined.
Extra Wiggle Room [Nancy Upton's Tumblr]
Nancy Upton Fires Back At American Apparel's Plus-Size Model Search [HuffPo]
Earlier: American Apparel Introduces Size XL, Holds Search For ‘Booty-Ful' Models
American Apparel Is Not Interested In Your Plus-Size Dollars
Images by Shannon Skloss Photography