Yesterday, the feminist pop-culture blog Jezebel offered $10,000 to anyone who would provide them with un-retouched images of actress and filmmaker, Lena Dunham — best known for her role in the HBO series Girls — from a recent photoshoot with Annie Leibowitz. Dunham appears flawless on Vogue magazine’s February issue — something Jezebel and other outlets found inconsistent with Dunham’s “take me as I am” stance. Jezebel’s subsequent post with the unaltered photographs shows the amount of retouching that went on after Dunham posed with Leibowitz.
Since Entertainment Weekly removed Paula Cole’s armpit hair in 1998 (a move the singer called “cowardly”), we’ve seen a growing number of articles about the powers of Photoshop — and how they’re used to create perfect images of what women “should” look like. Lena Dunham, though not overly concerned with the treatment she received from Vogue, is only the latest.
And now the clothes manufacturer American Apparel, always ready to stir things up, has decided to join the conversation about how we impose our ideas of beauty on one another. Their store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side now features mannequins in their window displays with pubic hair.
When Gothamist hit them up to ask what was going on, American Apparel’s director of marketing Ryan Holiday told them, “American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine’s Day window continues that celebration. We created it [the display] to invite passerby’s [sic] to explore the idea of what is ‘sexy’ and consider their comfort with the natural female form. This is the same idea behind our advertisements which avoid many of the photoshopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry. So far we have received positive feedback from those that have commented and we’re looking forward to hearing more points of view.”
As Holiday says, this is very much in keeping with the company’s approach. In 2011, they had an ad on the French magazine Purple featuring a model with her pubic hair showing through her lacy panties. Just a few months ago, American Apparel shocked the web with its “Period Power” t-shirt, which features a stylized hand parting unshaved and unwaxed labia, from which a river of pink springs.
More interesting than the items, perhaps, is the public’s reaction to the imagery. Mark Duffy, better known as the contentious Copyranter of advertising blogosphere and Buzzfeed infamy, called it sleazy, suggesting the company’s founder should just go get into porn. Across the pond, the Telegraph called the period shirt, “gross” and “cheap.” Jezebel, known for calling attention to any and all indignities committed against women seemed to approve of it, but couldn’t bring itself to wear it — or encourage others to do so in an attempt to desexualize female genitals and normalize the reality that, you know, women have hair there and menstruate.
Now everyone is posting images of the mannequins and their enormous pubic wigs, asking one another, “what do you think? What do you think?” That’s a good thing. That’s exactly what we should be doing. Not snarking and knee-jerking, but considering how this fits with everything else we think, feel and believe.
Advertising may seem like a clever game to sell more things, but it’s a lot like humor in that it has the power to normalize attitudes. A world where we can comfortably exist with mannequins that have nipples and pubic hair is a world were photo sharing platforms don’t delete your account for posting a photo of yourself with pubes sticking out from your bikini bottom.