The Unbearable Presence of Hair: American Apparel's Bush Administration

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. 

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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. 

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Comments

17 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Annoying.

Can you please post an image that doesn't require a flickr account to view full sized? If you're posting an article critiquing an image, we should at least be able to see it with ease.

re: Annoying.

To view the full size image, click the word 'here' in the sentence above the image. The actual image pasted in the article is private in flickr, so even if you had a flickr account you wouldn't be able to view it.

Click the link!

Hi Anonymous,

If you click on the link in the above post (where it says "Here is the ad") you can see a larger version of the image. Hope that works!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

I'd recommend removing the

I'd recommend removing the link from the image, though, I read this comment *first* and still reflexively clicked on the image without thinking. It's just kind of learned internet behavior.

I think Flickr's policy

I think Flickr's policy requires that you link back to the photo's page.

Nice Work!

Great, thought-provoking commentary (per yuge!). I'm pleased to see a model with pubic hair, just for visibility's sake, but like most, have issues with (most of) AA's advertising campaigns.

Well done!

I gotta say, I love just

I gotta say, I love just about all of the titles for your posts. "American Apparel's Bush Administration" that's great!!
And good article, too. Interesting that he said he was going on a conservative route but then came out with this? Most likely to create some sort of double-shock value. What will he do next!???!!! type of thing.

Pubic hair love

I've been spending more time lately thinking about pubic hair thanks to Amanda F. Palmer (recently) Gaiman. Her new single, Map of Tasmania, is about refusing to bow to the beauty standard/dictates. Plus, it's funny. (here is the link, complete w/lyrics. Best line: "I say grow that sh*t like a jungle" http://bit.ly/i36FM3)

how is this not child porn?

I am thinking about her pose and how young she is - she's not even old enough to shave yet, forget about wax. For me, this isn't about body hair, that is the distraction - they are trying very hard indeed to distract from the primary criticism of the age and sexualization of the models they hire and objectify. With this ad, the distraction of the pubic hair, we viewer/consumers don't see her face - but when we actually see her, we see she is a still a girl. Which the pedophiles were getting off on in the first place.

Just gross.

as I just mentioned

I agree with your point, too, and also believe that there is a correlation and/or connection between pedophilia and the desires for "shaved" women that nobody is daring discussing.

Not to mention

The comment "Shave, girl!" on one of the sites linked to, is indicative of what I find are the continuously disturbing expectations of what people expect of each other in intimate relationships.

I don't want to debate porn here, but it is the shaved actors in mainstream porn films and websites ... not to mention Howard Stern's raving and ranting about his preferences of "shaved" women over the years on his radio programs ... that are prompting too many to demand that their partners ... and other people in-general ... be shaved, too.

There is a healthy purpose for pubic hair -- to protect keep healthy the very delicate pubes! This is a disturbing trend that must stop and should be cause for concern by those concerned about our society's health.

Pubic hair ... a GOOD, HEALTHY thing.

Nice to see that American Apparel actually cares about it ... um ... yeah.

I like these conversations too

I remember when I was younger and I had a few AA items that fit my otherwise-hard-to-clothe body *really* well, and I was SO disappointed when I started to notice their advertising. Even though I considered myself a feminist as early as high school, it took me some time to accept that I'd have to engage in more feeble attempts to find a decent tank top because I couldn't feel good about supporting the brand. But I think like anything, it was only when I'd sort of mentally committed to it -- and after a lot of the anti-union stuff came out about them -- that I just didn't even consider going into an AA shop an option anymore. Once I took the option off the table, it felt like less of a difficult choice and more just reality, if that makes sense. In my case, I liken it to something like being vegan. I intellectually and emotionally know that I don't want to use animals, so much like I don't want to support a sexist, anti-union company, I just don't. Do I have to make adjustments about where I shop or eat or whatever? Sure, but don't we all do that anyway? And doesn't it usually get easier the more we actually do it? It takes a bit of training ourselves sometimes -- few people can just make a big change and have it stick -- but being mindful of this stuff tends to be easy w/ all the crap shit AA keeps spewing, year after year.

I feel really compelled to point out AA's union busting every time this conversation rolls around because while I think more people are likely to see and discuss these types of ads, I really wish there was more public accountability for things that also affect women but remain largely unseen, like garment industry working conditions. So much of what AA does is about marketing and has nothing to do w/ reality, so much like you point out that this won't alter the dialogue about pubic hair, I worry that it will push real issues further from the frame. If everyone's busy talking about your pervy advertising, they aren't trying to peek behind the curtain and examine what's really happening on the industrial side, for example. Gah. Can you tell I hate this company?

Union-busting conversation matters!

Brittany-
I found out about American Apparel's union-busting ways while researching for this post, actually. I DO hope the conversation expands to include AA's active role in refusing unionization, and I'm really, really glad you mentioned it specifically. The article that I linked to above is this one, at In These Times: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2270/ .

What interests (and bothers) me most about the pubic hair issue is not that it's featured in the ad, but the commentary that has followed. If there weren't stigma around body hair deserving of discussion, we could problematize these ads instead as symptomatic campaigns from a progressive-posing company with a myriad of cred-diminishing practices under their belt (pun acknowledged, if not intended). The list of potential blog posts about American Apparel grows on and on...

I'm conflicted about this. On

I'm conflicted about this. On the one hand, I always appreciate increased visibility of pubic hair as something normal and perhaps even sexy. On the other hand, as you point out, AA's advertising schtick is to use sexualized images of very young women wearing some of their clothing in order to shock and titillate. And sometimes it's done to shill "ironic" clothing items, such as thigh-high clothing items or scrunchies. So what troubles me is that the pubic hair in this ad could be seen as an "ironic" grooming habit, much like the 1970s facial hair styles that many guys sport these days. The plus side is that these things that start out as ironic often end up being rather mainstream. But again, as you point out, that would still be problematic because women would just be doing it to be hip/edgy/subversive/etc.

Though I still haven't decided my preference, I do feel thrilled every time I see pubic hair in movies or fashion spreads. It makes me think that, yay, it's more widespread and acceptable! That woman looks more like me! I'm thinking particularly of the photo (NSFW, and I hope I did the link correctly) of Crystal Renn in Vogue. But then things like Sasha Gray's (Grey?) appearance on Entourage happen - she sported a full bush on the show, which apparently grossed out most of the audience.

Time to stop rambling, but in general I think increased visibility is good - if anything, it at least shows that not everybody is grossed out by pubic hair.

correction

and by "thigh-high clothing items," I meant thigh-high striped socks.

Annoying

Stop attacking American Apparel already it's getting really old.

While I find this image

While I find this image distinctly creepy (mostly to do with the youth of the model and the sexualised pose), what I find more disturbing is the greater number of advertising images of women in sheer underwear with NO hint of pubes. Even if the model is older this lack of pubes makes her look pre-pubescent and sexualised at the same time.

There is nothing wrong with pubes. Shaving them off or photoshopping them out in advertising images so that consumers' attention is drawn to the garment rather than the wearer creates unrealistic expectations of what our bodies are supposed to look like - in or out of underwear. Are we all going to entertain the myth that full grown women don't have pubes? Are we supposed to consider a pre-pubescent looking muff sexy? So yeah, this image is designed to shock - but why should it?