A guest post by Jess Khouri.
“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 Upton
I was recently re-examining a story from September of this year: the story of American Apparel’s “booty-ful” plus size model search, Nancy Upton, and her fantastic photo entries that spoke loudly about current social stereotypes and common assumptions surrounding fat. In the summer, American Apparel put on a contest, where the public could vote. American Apparel used offensive language stating they were looking for “plus size” models who were “booty-ful,” who “needed a little extra wiggle room” in their clothes, and who wanted to be the next “XLent model.” Nancy Upton, rightly offended by the language they were using, submitted an entry with a series of photos in which she displayed herself eating fried foods, covered in ranch sauce, and smothered in desserts. The photos, which can be seen on her tumblr, placed first. Unfortunately, American Apparel denied her the opportunity to be the “XLent” face of the company, claiming she made a mockery of the contest.
Upton’s Photo’s are actually an excellent commentary on fat stereotypes and simultaneously on diet culture.
Nancy Upton embodies the fat stereotype of “glutton” and “overeater” by displaying her (often naked) body eating, covered in, or covered by fried or sweet “fatty” foods. In her photos, she becomes a living embodiment of how society has come to view fat bodies. By submitting these photos, she not only challenges the offensive contest, and generally offensive company of American Apparel as a whole, but challenges negatives views on fat as well. She comments that her friend came over to take pictures of her and she “just couldn’t stop eating.”
Her photo submissions made me wonder: what happens when we become the living embodiment of what you see? What happens when we embody exactly what it is you’re thinking about us? Why are people so offended by her pictures when she is only embodying popular discourses surrounding fat?
As Upton embodies “the overeater” stereotype, and in certain photos actually animalizes herself as “pig” — a common trope for fat women — she forces discomfort in the viewers of her pictures. She is forcing them to come face to face with their own judgements, their own biases against fat.
This is how you see me. This is what you think I am. This is how all fat people are.
Playing in to the belief that every fat person can and should be thin, Upton swims in a tub of ranch dressing, as if to say, so being fat is my own fault right? Upton’s photos caused so much resistance from American Apparel because they not only challenged the offensive contest, but also brought to centre stage the fat-phobic attitudes that saturate retail culture, and specifically American Apparel, who previously stated that people over a size 10 “are not our demographic.” As a company, American Apparel has demonstrated that it is uncomfortable with Upton showing them exactly what it is they think of fat people.
This is what happens when we throw their stereotypes back at them.
Resistance. Defensiveness. They are almost…offended. Offended?
No one likes to be brought face to face with their own biases and prejudices. This is what Upton is forcing. She forces you to look, to examine, and to think. Is this how I see fat people?
My favourite photos of Upton, in which she uses only a pie to cover herself, also shows that fat can be sexy. Fat bodies are so often viewed as asexual, as bodies that are disgusting and can’t possibly be perceived as attractive. Upton sexualizes herself in many photos, to show that fat can and should be sexy. Fat is sexy!
Upton’s photos call for a rethinking of fat. Not only does she want to smash stereotypes by embodying them for all to see, she wants to rethink fatness and eating. Pie and fried chicken, and ice cream, should all be things that people can eat freely and without judgment. Stop using “health” as a guise for your fat phobia. Not many people can say they looked at Upton’s photos and thought, that’s unhealthy. Rather, what Upton’s photos likely caused, were fat phobic thoughts of gluttony, disgust, and unattractiveness, exactly what I assume she was aiming for.
To end on a positive note, Upton received a lot of support for her photos and was voted to number one. I like to think people understood her message, understood that American Apparel was and still is resistant to fat people, and they too believed that society needs a radical readjustment in its views on fatness.