So it’s not that I expect safe and predictable things from American Apparel. After all, this is a company that courts controversy in everything from its advertising to the inflammatory interviews that CEO Dov Charney has given over the years. And yet I couldn’t help but still be a bit surprised when I saw a Buzzfeed post titled “American Apparel Now Sells a $32 Period Power Shirt” with a “pretty NSFW” warning. Before I clicked on it (because, duh, of course I was going to click on it), I wondered if it could really be what it claimed to be…a shirt celebrating period power. Would there be blood? Would there be…power? Well, it turns out, yes! And yes! (NSFW after the jump)
As it turns out, this period power shirt was even more bloody and more vagina-y (look at all that hair…that is definitely not Miley Cyrus’s vagina, I’ll tell you that right now) and more powerful than I thought it would be. I kind of couldn’t look away? At least not for a couple of minutes and not before I sent links to the shirt to everyone I work with (despite it being a NSFW kind of a thing, I am not necessarily the most SFW kind of employee, maybe). But then even after a couple of minutes, I still returned to it. Bombarded as we all are by images of immaculate female bodies—hairless and dimple-free at all times—it was both a shock and a kind of delight to see an illustration of a messy, hairy vagina doing what a vagina does once a month—bleeding all over the fucking place. Plus, the watercolor-inspired nail art looks kind of incredible.
This shirt is part of the limited edition Ardorous line by artist Petra Collins, a 20-year-old photographer and visual artist from Toronto, who actually once worked at American Apparel as a retail employee, and has now worked as a photographer for places like Vice, Vogue Italia, Rookie, and, naturally, on American Apparel ad campaigns. Collins’s work focuses on “female sexuality and teen girl culture” and this shirt (and the two others in the line) are emblematic of that focus. On BuzzFeed, commenters mostly resorted to calling the shirt “vile” or making jokes about wearing it to church. And while part of the purpose of the shirt might be just to solidify the shocking or, you know, edgy reputation that American Apparel attempts to cultivate, the period power shirt (unlike maybe the Ardorous shirt that just looks like a wet t-shirt contest winner, which I still like) successfully plays with society’s continued discomfort in seeing the grotesquery inherent within the female body. It subverts female beauty (those perfectly painted nails, exposing all that pink, pink blood), without taking away any of that same beauty. I mean, just look at that little asterisk/asshole. It’s hilarious and it’s perfect and it’s covered in blood. That’s kind of what we need more of, isn’t it? A look at a woman that isn’t perfect. A look at a woman that is a mess. A look at a different kind of beauty. Frankly, that’s really hard to come by anymore. So if you can find it at American Apparel? That’s kind of amazing.
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