Original Ad


“Tights.” was part of American Apparel’s 2007 ad campaign, launched among a handful of other provocative photos of models posing seductively—often in little to no clothing. Many consumers went up in arms that the clothing company was sexually objectifying women. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first or last of American Apparel’s controversies. A simple Google search reveals just how problematic the retailer can be. From their over-sexualized advertising to the multiple sexual-harassment lawsuits against the company’s CEO, Dov Charney. American Apparel’s adverts frequently depict women in “vulnerable” poses: posing half-naked, completely nude apart from wearing American Apparel socks, or of women passed out on beds. The company has also come under fire for using seemingly underage girls in sexually exploitive “voyeuristic” positions for their ads. One of these ads were criticized by the Advertising Standards Authority and subsequently banned in the UK.

As an advert, “Tights.” is supposedly selling hosiery. In American Apparel’s defence, we do see the tights they’re advertising on the right. But on the left, they’re clearly advertising something else: sex. In the photo, the model appears to be mid-climax, creating an erotic imagery, taking away from the product the brand is initially advertising. “Tights.” had many asking if American Apparel was selling tights or porn. This “sex sells” ploy to grab consumer’s attention through female subjugation continues to persevere in the advertising industry through means of the male gaze. Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist, explained the concept of “male gaze” as women being used for visual pleasure and looked at as objects. Through the eyes of the male gaze—typically a heterosexual male—women were sexualized for the viewing pleasure of men. Themes of objectifying young girls are prevalent in American Apparel ads, many of their adverts excluding the model’s faces, essentially reducing their identity to just sexy female body parts used for the purpose of an erotic impact.

In New York City, one of American Apparel’s billboards depicting a woman wearing only tights with her legs spread was vandalized with the spray-painted words: “Gee, I wonder why women get raped.” In itself the statement is problematic as it blames sexual violence on the way women dress. However, this social commentary made me question whether American Apparel’s ads should be celebrated for capturing girls expressing their sexuality, or condemned for capitalizing on that very sexual expression, fundamentally taking advantage of them. While it’s important to encourage women’s sexuality, I believe American Apparel takes advantage of women by intentionally picturing them in sexually vulnerable pornographic poses. Representing a specific form of sexism through the male gaze that continues to objectify women in media today.


Culture Jam Ad


In my version of the 2007 “Tights.” American Apparel ad, I directly illustrate what the company was initially going for. Under the guise of selling hosiery, American Apparel is really selling sexualized images of women’s bodies. The question was: who were these ads targeting? While tights are considered to be a woman’s garment, the “Tights.” ad seemed it was directed towards male viewers. In this case, sex can quite literally sell because ads such as “Tights.” show women as simply being there to provide visual gratification. Companies constantly profiting from the exploitative nature of their advertisements. My jammed version of American Apparel’s ad goes straight to the point, focusing on the model pleasuring herself because that’s really what we’re made to focus on anyways.

Laura Mulvey argued that the male gaze leads to hegemonic ideologies in our society. When mediums of media such as advertising continue to present women from the perspective of men using the male gaze, women consequently develop a point of view of the male gaze as well. This may dangerously lead women to objectify other women in a similar manner that a man would. Additional issues from adopting the perspectives of the male gaze reiterate the idea that men are the main subject and protagonists in patriarchal society. My jammed ad subverts American Apparel’s poor attempt to sell tights, instead highlighting how females are represented in their ads in the context of the male gaze. In my ad, the model is predominantly focused on through binocular lenses representing “the male gaze.” This further demonstrates a point of the male gaze that men do the looking while women are there to be looked at.

In order to advertise his clothing, Dov Charney objectified and sexualized many young women. Subjecting them to his version of the male gaze, Charney maintained a form of control by framing this sexual subjection as seemingly sexy and fun. Further evidence of Charney hypersexualizing female models is found in how he advertised unisex clothing. In one photo, a female was modelling a plaid shirt unbuttoned, revealing a fair amount of skin. For the same shirt, a male model would be wearing it buttoned all the way up. This form of sexualizing female bodies while non-sexualizing male bodies reduces women’s bodily worth. Rather, maintaining patriarchal values that women are meant to be viewed pleasurably by men. For this reason, I believe it’s important female beauty and sexual liberation should be praised but not when used as a means for brands to sell products.

End notes:
Charney has since been fired from American Apparel after he was accused of sexually harassing his female employees and misusing company funds. I can’t say he will be missed.

In addition, here is the second version of my jammed ad.