American Apparel Is Offending You Again

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

I don't even know what to say about American Apparel's new "period power" tee. I like her nail art? The rest falls under if you don't have anything nice to say...

I'm all about destigmatizing periods and female masturbation and everything else that needs destigmatizing, but I don't think the proper place for any kind of genitals or bodily processes is in close-up, on a t-shirt. Call me crazy. The screen-print, however, was designed by 20-year-old artist Petra Collins, a one-time American Apparel retail employee turned Vice, Vogue and Rookie photographer who also curates an all-female art platform called The Ardorous. Half the proceeds from the tee's sale will go to the Ardorous, and so I kind of feel fine, whatever about the whole thing. Maybe putting this on a tee isn't necessary, but it's getting attention and money for a female art collective, so I can't be too mad at it.

Reactions to the shirt have been mixed. Time's Anita Hamilton is celebratory:

"Here’s hoping Period Power gives women of all ages one more reason to feel good about their bodies. Or at least spurs a conversation about why — in an age of unlimited porn, 50 Shades of Grey, HBO’s Girls and social media oversharing — so much of women’s sexuality is still such a secret."

But if we're to take this as social commentary, then discussing whether it's too cartoonish, in-your-face or vacuously attention-seeking are fair game. As a commenter at Jezebel says,

"Merely throwing a picture of a vagina (or a menstruating vagina, or a hairy vagina) on stuff does not instantly make for a progressive, feminist or interesting piece of work."

Collins defended her shirt to the Daily Mail .

"This image is stating that women are not a subordinate creature to just be entered. We are our own beings control of our own sexuality. I find it interesting that images addressing sexuality and reproduction are hidden and often looked at as disgusting."

It's a little Women's Studies 101, but one can hardly argue that Collins is wrong. Maybe it's just impossible to talk about vagina art without sounding a little derivative to anyone who's witnessed this go down before (somewhere out there, however, a 15-year-old's mind is getting blown). As Ashley Cardiff at the gloss writes:

"Whenever anyone uses period blood to be provocative, the same exact argument happens in predictable order: first, there are the obvious detractors who cry that it’s disgusting!; then there are the equality warriors who cry that it’s natural, not disgusting!; last, there are the confused few who agree that it’s not really “disgusting” but there’s still the question of why? And with that, in 3… 2… 1…"

Oh, hai.

Images: Getty Images; American Apparel