Holly Norris, a photographer and Women’s Studies major at Trent University in Ontario, CA, shot a series of fake ads targeting American Apparel. Her aim?
"American Able’ intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women who are employees, friends and fans of the company. However, these women fit particular body types. Their campaigns are highly sexualized and feature women who are generally thin, and who appear to be able-bodied. Women with disabilities go unrepresented, not only in American Apparel advertising, but also in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable.’ In a society where sexuality is created and performed over and over within popular culture, the invisibility of women with disabilities in many ways denies them the right to sexuality, particularly within a public context.’"
It’s also important to remember that this is an college undergraduate that probably shot this as some sort of class project. And while it would have been more arresting and more pointed to use a disabled model to spoof the very serious haute couture ads in Vogue— the ones actually being charged with warping body expectations in the media — it wouldn’t be feasible for a young, budgeted undergrad. Plus, American Apparel is more within the college purview than, say, Roberto Cavalli.
And even if you feel that the project is a good-hearted but ultimately misguided effort (Susannah Breslin from True/Slant says, "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."), you have to give props to Holly Norris for being this daring. And even more credit goes to the model, Jes Sachse, for being willing and open enough to do this. (You couldn’t force me into a onesie at gunpoint — let alone in front of a camera, no matter the cause.)
[Images via Holly Norris]