The internet has been abuzz lately about American Apparel’s latest shocker – a shirt that depicts the crotch of a woman who is menstruating and masturbating.
To be honest, the first time that I saw the shirt, I was shocked. And the second time. And the third time. This is no Georgia O’Keefe painting – it’s a full frontal view of a vagina complete with pubic hair, menstrual blood and digits devoted to self-pleasure, things that are often omitted from depictions of female bodies in visual culture (despite the fact that pubic hair, periods, and masturbation are a natural part of being a woman.)
It’s an arresting design and an important idea: the celebration of a woman’s body and her sexuality. The artist, Petra Collins, is 20, and creates portraits about female sexuality and teen culture, and told Oyster Magazine last year,
“I find people are uncomfortable when a woman is expressing her sexuality instead of repressing it. In our society, nude or sexually suggestive images of women are automatically seen as negative and objectifying and is often seen through a male perspective rather than from a female’s. We need to make room for the female view of sex and accept it. Until then, people are going to be uncomfortable with photos like mine.”
Despite the feminist ideologies behind the conception of the shirt, I still have some major qualms about American Apparel’s motivation for creating and selling it. Because, let’s be honest here – I’m not really sure if CEO Dov Charney and American Apparel are thinking about the reclaiming the female body and owning female sexuality especially when they have a long acknowledged history of incredibly sexist – and at times, racist – advertisements, as well as a slew of sexual harassment cases brought against Charney. Given their penchant for the controversial (and the clothes that sell because of the controversy), could their “Period Power” shirts merely be another tool to sell the female body for profit – only this time, under the guise of empowerment?
I hope not. But until then, I’m happy that this is opening up a dialogue about menstruation and female sexuality – two taboo topics that shouldn’t be left to silence.