American Apparel mannequins now have pubic hair

The stunt is shameless commerce, but it still raises interesting questions about representations of women's body

Topics: Gender, Sexism, bodies, female bodies, commerce, American Apparel, , ,

An American Apparel store in New York City now has mannequins sporting pubic hair, which is a very American Apparel thing to do, I guess.

American Apparel is a company that makes a lot of money selling clothing modeled by scantily clad (generally thin, often white) women, and being provocative is part of its marketing strategy. Plenty of their models have pubic hair in their advertisements, so the shop’s mannequins are consistent in terms of “brand identity.”

The company also recently stirred a bit of genuinely interesting controversy with a T-shirt collaboration with artist Petra Collins. The shirt featured a line drawing of a woman’s menstruating vagina, which made some people feel very mad and uncomfortable.

Collins shot back at critics with the excellent point that our culture is entirely accepting of images of extreme violence and “readable” representations of women’s sexualized bodies, but balks at an innocuous drawing of a vulva: “… we’re so shocked and appalled at something that’s such a natural state — and it’s funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently. The graphic on my shirt is a line drawing, too. It’s not even a full-on image.”

So, women have pubic hair; showing it on a mannequin that models underwear arguably makes sense. If we aren’t questioning the preternaturally perky breasts or epic thigh gaps on most mannequins, why single out pubic hair? Diverse and (slightly more) realistic representations of the female form (even statued versions of the female form) can get people talking about the kinds of bodies that our culture celebrates and those that it does not, and that conversation can be a really powerful thing.

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But this is American Apparel, a company that aims to stir up controversy in order to make a profit. Not exactly the exemplar of feminist discourse on sexism and representation. So, if the pubic hair is really intended as a more realistic representation of real women (and not just a way to grab headlines), then I’m eager to see the store feature mannequins with arm hair, armpit hair, leg hair, skin tones other than porcelain white, and other things that exist in reality.

Gothamist snapped a photo of the window display, which you can check out here.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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