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Not Barbies: American Apparel Contributes to Unrealistic Beauty Standards


Sweatshop Free. That’s American Apparel. And as of last month, the brand has decided to also be nipple and pubic hair free. Among many efforts to put the controversies of their company in the past, the popular clothing brand has decided to digitally alter photos on their website so no nipples or pubic hair can be seen on their female models. What they don’t seem to realize is that changing real women to look like plastic dolls not only looks creepy and unnatural, it targets their female devotees.

I’ve been a fairly regular shopper at American Apparel for many years now, filling my closet with AA brand crop tops, striped socks and body suits. Maybe even more so than the clothes however, I have always been drawn to their models. Varying in body shape, height, race, and style, they contrasted sharply to all the skinny white girls I was used to seeing sport brands like Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters. AA models didn’t have to have flat stomachs or shiny hair to rock a pair of high waisted pants. I was drawn to this, like many girls are, because it gave me the confidence that I could look great in the clothes they sold without having to look like a Victoria’s Secret Angel. And scrolling through the lingerie section on their website, it was comforting to see bodies that were normal. Sometimes they had cellulite, sometimes scars, and sometimes visible nipples or pubic hair, as normal women do. These normalities, however, are not commonly shown so openly. We live in a society where it’s become standard to see a girl completely hairless, whereas models with any form of body hair are seen as controversial.

American Apparel has had many controversies that go beyond not photoshopping their models. Under the founder and former brand owner Dov Charney, the company’s had a history of suggestive ads (many times involving models that look underage) and reports of sexual assaults coming from Charney himself. This is a past the brand should want to leave behind, and their new CEO Paula Schneider has said she wants to do exactly that. But eradicating pubic hair and nipples from their models is the opposite of an improvement. The altering of the female body in their images reinforces the idea that so many other media outlets suggest: women should be ashamed of certain parts of their bodies. Even in their underwear, girls should cover up anything that gives away the fact that they’re (gasp!) not a Barbie doll.

There have been many body acceptance campaigns in the news recently, including the #FreeTheNipple equality movement, which stands against the censoring of female bodies, especially in contrast to their male counterparts. The campaign has gone viral and gained support nationally. In a time where so many people are becoming aware of the way society’s standards for girls are dangerous, and support for the acceptance of the female body is rising, photoshopping nipples off of women is a complete step in the wrong direction.

Walking through the halls at Wilson, I recognize AA clothing all the time. So many teenage girls are loyal customers of the brand, and let’s face it, we’re at a pretty vulnerable age. If you ever find a girl who says she’s never compared herself to images she sees in the media, she’s lying (or has lived under a rock literally her entire life). This is why having such an influential brand promote the acceptance of the female body is so important, and why the choice American Apparel has made is harmful to its biggest group of fans.