American Apparel spoof stars disabled model
American Apparel, perhaps best known for its butt contests, pubic hair ads, and porn star models, not to mention its pervtastic CEO, Dov Charney, has been sent up by a young female photographer who’s replaced American Apparel’s apple-bottomed beauties and sex star-cum-mannequins with a disabled model.
That model is Jes Sachse, the photographer who created the project is Holly Norris, and the series is called American Able. On her website, Norris, a Canadian women’s studies student, says she chose American Apparel to spoof because of the company’s claim that its models are girls next door, when, in fact, the American Apparel model standard of beauty adheres to pretty traditional standards of beauty, at least by American standards.
So, Norris replaced Sasha Grey with Sachse, who is inarguably different-bodied. The goal, Norris says, is to put disabled women in places “where women with disabilities are typically excluded.” For example, American Apparel ads. “Too often, the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media goes unexamined, consumed en masse by the public,” Norris writes. “However, this imagery has real, oppressive effects on people who are continuously ‘othered’ by society.”
Clearly, there is no problem too small in a first world country. Regardless, the effect is somewhat intriguing, visually-speaking. It’s as if Charney dropped acid one morning and rang up Diane Arbus to shoot his next ad campaign. Sachse’s body, decked out in AA-brand Reveal-o-Ware is simultaneously intimately familiar and arrestingly different. It’s hard to know what to think. The pictures are as uniquely fascinating as they are quietly discomfiting.
Still, there may be a bit of a gap between Norris’s women’s studies, disability-positive rhetoric and the results of her “let’s sex-up a disabled person” project. Ultimately, any work of art begs to be understood. Is this disability exploitation designed to generate attention influenced by Charney’s own marketing savvy, or are we supposed to have an experience with these images that leads us to de-otherize that which was other? In the end, one can’t help but see little more than one more young woman in her underpants.