American Apparel's feud with photo contest winner heats up

Nancy Upton is not your average American Apparel model. Instead of leg-warmers, she dons a cherry pie bikini, instead of a sweatband she accessorizes with roasted chicken.

Upton just won the most votes on American Apparel's plus-size modeling contest for her series of satiric binge-eating photos, but the clothing label isn't giving her any prizes.

It all started last month, when the brand launched "The Next Big Thing" model search contest to introduce their new line of XL apparel. Their call for "booty-ful" women, "curvy ladies" and "those of us who need a little extra wiggle room" wasn't exactly subtle. Neither was the submission request: "photos of you and your junk to back it up.”

To Upton, the contest read like one big slap in the face. "The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind. How offensive the campaign was," Upton wrote in an essay on the Daily Beast. To her the contest highlighted the fact that a "subservient, nearly naked woman has always earned a place in American Apparel’s advertising with no trouble, but that larger women need to vote each other down and compete against one another to even deserve a chance."

Then there's the fact that the company's only just now launching products for women size 12 to 14, after over 20 years in business.

To teach American Apparel a lesson, the Dallas-based blogger recruited photographer Shannon Skloss and submitted a series of modeling shots where she's suggestively devouring chicken, potato chips, fudge syrup, and salad dressing. Her photos, intended as both a joke on the company and a social commentary on how marketers represent the plus-size demographic, actually won the most votes for the contest.

But American Apparel won't give her the last laugh. Creative Director Iris Alonzo sent Upton an email, which she posted on her blog, that criticizes her submission as a setback.

"There are thousands of brands in the market who have no intention of supporting natural -- and completely normal -- full-figured women, and American Apparel is making a conscious effort to change that, both with our models and our line," writes Alonzo, who believes that by targeting AA's campaign, Upton is doing damage to further plus-size retail opportunities. "If every brand that tried to do this was met with such negative press, we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple."

The brand hasn't announced their official pick for the winner yet, but they've made it clear it's not Upton. Writes Alonzo in her e-tirade: "Oh -- and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company."

That seems a little harsh. Upton may have said some things that hurt the American Apparel marketing team's feelings but that's no reason to call her names. In fact, it's a little bully-ish for a large company to attack a single person, just because she didn't like their branding tactic.

All Upton has done (by eating a turkey in a pool), is open up a conversation about how differently companies market to women depending on their body types. She's also made another uninspired retail contest grounds for smart, funny, and engaging debate. Maybe instead of giving her a verbal smack-down, American Apparel should be hiring her for their next campaign. She's got my vote.

Check out outtakes from Upton's food shoot below.

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