“All Asses Are Not Created Equal”

PhotobucketFor today’s installment of “what’s new in cultural (mis)appropriation” I’d like to point to Levi’s Jeans new “All Asses Are Not Created Equal” campaign for their new “Curve ID” line, purportedly geared towards women with “curves.” Whatever that means.

There are so many problems with this campaign but let’s start at the surface. The slogan is utterly ridiculous and ambiguous. However, it’s not so much about the language but the message it conveys. What makes said asses unequal? Does that mean some are better than others? Even if they are trying to somehow be accepting of different sized butts, it’s unclear. They need to hire some new copywriters and ad execs, perhaps a few with some cultural sensitivity and/or common sense.

Next, the models used are all very thin and fairly shapeless. The models in the photo would be laughed at if you tried to bring them into Black and Latina communities and say they were “curvy.” What does “curvy” even mean? It’s being used these days as a euphemism for women over a size 6-8 (I assume?) which is better than “fat.” But “curvy” is completely subjective. There are definite cultural differences in what’s curvy in one community versus another.

As a biracial black woman, I’m tired of seeing products that are trying to serve women with “curves” only to feature non-shapely white women. It’s the same with that pathetic booty shaper “EasyTone” sneaker commercial by Reebok. I laugh at it every time it comes on (or throw things). There is no one in that commercial that is over a size 6. It features very thin women with flat asses and claims that these shoes will shape your butt and legs. If  the models shown are supposed to indicate the results from wearing those shoes, then I’ll stick to lunges, squats and rice and beans. Or just give me a Booty Pop. At least they aren’t taking themselves too seriously.

Many Black and Latina women have always struggled with the same issue in finding jeans to fit their waist and butt at the same time without having to spend more time and money on alterations. But these “Curve ID” jeans don’t seem to be the answer, at least from the pictures on their site. Many white women also do not fit the stereotype of beauty that these companies promote, and find this campaign just as offensive. See Shelby Knox’s post, “Levi’s New Ad Campaign Falls On Its Butt.”  To me, this campaign is another example of cultural (mis)appropriation. Mainstream American culture (big up J.Lo) “loves” curvy booties which have always been en vogue in communities of color, but only really under a lens of white standards of beauty.

I have to say I’m with Sir Mix-A-Lot on this one…

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/shahida/ Shahida Arabi

    Thank you for writing this!! I too am tired of seeing white, non-shapely women on almost every advertisement especially one for curviness. However, I would argue with the idea that curvy is a euphemism for “fat” or just another way to say plus-size although that’s how it is often distorted in media. Curvy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re over size six–it can mean that your waist is the smallest part of you, and that you have larger hips and butt as well as maybe breasts. Skinny figures can also be curvy figures so long as they have a curvy shape.

    I do however agree with your point about the de-racialization of natural curviness. Yes, of course there are curvy white women out there, but this clothing line presented an opportunity to present women outside of the regular slim model– I think generally we are just in dire need of more diversity when we advertise clothing :(

  • http://feministing.com/members/yekaterina/ Yekaterina

    Funny, but even as we (understandably) criticize insensitive advertising like this, we still manage to put some women down (this time, all on our own!) Bad, bad advertising, implying that some asses are better than others, and excluding all women size 6 and up! Enough of those “fairly shapeless,” “non-shapely” models. “If the models shown are supposed to indicate the results from wearing those shoes, then I’ll stick to lunges, squats and rice and beans.” I know right. Who would want to have ugly bodies like these. Run away! (hopefully not in the kind of shoes that would make your ass “flat” though!)

    Hm, after reading all this, I really think I’d rather go with “all asses are not created equal.” At least that’s “ambiguous,” unlike the analysis, which is downright insulting to all women the size and shape of the girls in the ad.

  • unequivocal

    I have to say I’m with Sir Mix-A-Lot on this one…

    Really? It seems to me that this is just more of the same old body hate and objectification. The overwhelming majority of the dancers in the video don’t exactly defy stereotypes of modern beauty, and Mix-A-Lot even specifically says that curves on a woman are only acceptable if she has a tiny waist.

    I’d add to that that your comment regarding how these advertisements feature “non-shapely white women” smacks of the problematic and damaging stereotypes regarding the appropriateness of judging female beauty. “Non-shapely” isn’t exactly a neutral description of someone’s appearance; in fact, it comes across as flat out insulting.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

    I find your use of the terms “shapeless” and “non-shapely” to be problematic (offensive? Is that too strong a word?). These women have shapes, whether or not they are to your liking, and whether or not they meet your definition. You admit in a few places that curviness is socially constructed, and yet you appoint yourself to decide who is shapely and who is somehow without shape, or who you can criticize as being “very thin” and having “flat asses”. Who made you the arbiter of what is “flat” or curvy?

    Also, I think your statement about how, “The models in the photo would be laughed at if you tried to bring them into Black and Latina communities and say they were ‘curvy,” may not be giving Black and Latina communities enough credit: I feel like the Black and Latina women I know are informed enough to realize that different communities have different beauty standards, rather than laughing at other women who are considered “curvy” outside their communities and standards.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tulipa44/ Beth

    I am having a lot of trouble posting a reply, and don’t feel like retyping. In summary:
    I agree that this is a terrible ad campaign, and that these models don’t represent even three different sizes, much less ‘curvy’.

    However, I reject the underhanded body-snarking going on in much of this post. From the tone of the post, it would certainly seem you do agree that all asses are not created equal; that the models in this ad and the (atrocious) Reebok Easy-Tone ad have butts worth altering.

    Feminism, to me, is not wearing padded underpants to fit any (culturally specific or not) beauty standard, nor is it applauding songs that reduce women to body parts. I’ll take my flat white butt just the way it is, thanks.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mkvel/ mkvel

    I think that you bring up a good point about the lack of representation of all shapes and sizes among models by the fashion industry. However, there is little else I agree with you here. Rather than focusing on the variation and beauty of all women’s bodies, you seem to be insulting skinny, flat-butt, “non-curvy” women. Furthermore, you suggest that all black and Hispanic women are “curvy” whereas all white women are not. As a “non-curvy” Hispanic woman, I am offended. Race or ethnicity does not determine body shape. Several of my white friends have beautiful big butts.

    I have always had skinny legs and a small butt, which has led to much teasing from my some family members my WHOLE life. As a teen in high school, I felt like less of a woman because all my peers had breasts and butts larger than mine. As an adult, I have finally accepted my body and actually love my legs (15 years of ballet will do that). And most days, I love my butt in all its small roundedness. But then someone comes along and tells me that I am less womanly or curvy or what-have-you and I sometimes believe them. Eventually, I refuse to accept anyone’s beauty standards and go on loving my body.

    People need to stop scrutinizing each other’s bodies, particularly women’s. Creating beauty standards is unacceptable. No one fits into a mold.

  • http://feministing.com/members/thenotoriousrcl/ RCL

    I cannot imagine the PR shitstorm that would have ensued, following the release of an ad involving women of different ethnicities, women of different.. weight categories(?) and the phrase “all [plural nouns] were not created equal.” I think the phrase refers to the fact that most clothing manufacturers have one standard body type they make clothing for. You are assuming it is a judgement call. It connotes one, but when the rest of the ad is taken into consideration, the graphic content reverses the expectation based on the textual content.

    Also, on their site, Levi’s lets you search images of real women wearing these new jeans by type, cut, and size. The women have rolls, muffin tops, tooth pick legs, protruding collar bones, thunder thighs, no asses, big asses, and all the colours of the rainbow as far as skin or hair or whatever goes. That’s more fair representation than most companies give.