Are American Apparel Ads Sexist Or Empowering?

American Apparel
American Apparel


American Apparel ads are notorious for being sexually explicit and have been known to use shock tactics to its advantage. Their usual strategy is to use nudity to sell their hip, overpriced, brightly-colored spandex, bodysuits, and leotards. The company almost always displays a topless model’s boobs, nipples and even their assholes (remember that ad featuring a model riding a bike with her butthole in plain sight?) Dov Charney has even used porn stars to model for the brand. From all angles, American Apparel has definitely embraced sex as an integral part of its brand image.

There is no doubt that the way women are being portrayed in the media significantly influences women’s lives and ideas about how to look. The question: Does the way women are depicted in the media demean them and give them a negative body image – or does it empower them? The concept of sexual objectification and, in particular, the objectification of women is an important idea in feminist theory and psychological theories derived from feminism. Many feminists regard sexual objectification as objectionable and as playing an important role in the inequality of the sexes. One can argue that sexual objectification cannot even be defined; it’s all a matter of perspective.

The media tells us women must conform to their beauty ideal. Ultimately, the media constructs this ideal of beauty just so consumers will buy their product. Lately, our culture has been associated plastic surgery and airbrushing. Women are not often seeing a realistic portrayal of themselves. They are misrepresenting women in the media as flawless beings who are constructed for the sole purpose of attracting the opposite sex.  It’s not surprising that in our media-driven culture, our views of what women should look like are warped. Real women with pubic hair and breasts that are not perfect round spheres begin to seem unnatural compared to the altered images we see in the media. There has been a steady trend in the social, cultural and fashion realms in which women have arguably made themselves into physical objects by intention. This shift involves wearing revealing and sexy clothing. This shift has often been presented as a professed form of “empowerment” by increasing gender power.

What might seem like sexual objectification can actually be quite the opposite. In today’s culture the idea of a woman participating in a wet T-shirt contest or being comfortable watching explicit porn has become a symbol of feminist strength. Some might argue that Girls Gone Wild or even the recent antics of Miley Cyrus marked not the downfall of feminism but its triumph, proving that women have become strong enough to express their sexuality publicly. This could represent liberation as opposed to repression, and allows women to stray from the social norms and conventions.

While some feminists view mass media as objectifying, other feminists, particularly those identified with sex-positive feminism, take a different view of sexual objectification, and see it as a problem when it is not counterbalanced by women’s sense of their own sexual subjectivity. Sex-positive feminism centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom; therefore risqué images may be seen as perfectly acceptable as long as there is a sex-positive attitude or outlook. If there is a scantily clad celebrity in an ad or a nude actress in a television series or film, as long as she is aware and comfortable with the fact that she is displaying a sexualized image, then it is perfectly acceptable.

Feminists pushed for the sexual liberation of women and at the same time want to end their objectification. Most people make the mistake of claiming that objectification is a product of sexual liberation when they’re completely unrelated. Feminists who advocate for sexual liberation want women to be able to express their sexuality to the same extent that men are able to without being condemned by society, and for women to be proud of their sexuality – meaning to be proud of the fact that they have desires just as men do. Yet, some feminists can be quick on labeling sexual behavior in women as self-objectification, and some would say this conflicts with sexual freedom. Some believe self-objectification can be fixed through sexual liberation and having control of your body and sexuality; you make your decisions because your sexuality belongs to you and no one else.

Objectification should not be seen as having anything to do with women being able to do what they want with their bodies. It should be see seen as society projecting roles onto women that they feel they have to fulfill. Sexual objectification is a debatable subject and there is no absolutely way to determine what demeans women or not, but what if that perfectly waxed asshole is playing an essential role in women’s empowerment and sexual liberation? TC Mark

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