Persephone Pioneers: Nancy Upton

Persephone Magazine: You were the winner of American Apparel’s “Next Big Thing” contest, where plus-size women could upload their photos at a chance to model with the company. Of course, your photos (while awesomely hot) were a jab at the intentions of the company, which has never really been fat-friendly, nor woman-, race- or really, anything-friendly. Can you talk about why you entered the contest and what you were hoping to accomplish with your photos?

Editor’s Note: We love Nancy so much, we’re featuring her twice this week. TEAM NANCY! 

Nancy Upton. Image copyright Photo: extrawiggleroom.tumblr

Nancy Upton: I really entered the contest as a joke. I thought it was being done in poor taste, especially the use of fake cute words like “XLent” and “booty-ful.” I understand the light-hearted fun the company was going for, but I thought it missed the mark and I felt like I was being condescended to. I really just thought it would be something my friends and I would laugh about- “Oh, look at Nancy’s silly food pictures over on the American Apparel website.”

Image courtesy and copyright of Shannon Skloss.

PM: Were you surprised at the reaction of your photos’ popularity? Do you think people were clear of your intentions, as well as this veiled attempt by AA ?

NU: I was EXTREMELY surprised. I would say about 80% of people have seen the photos and understood right away that they’re meant to be satirical. There’s definitely a small selection of people that have taken them VERY seriously and either been angry or disgusted by my actions, or were really disappointed that I didn’t get asked to model for the company (which was never an intention of mine).

Nancy Upton. Image courtesy and copyright of Shannon Skloss

PM: As far as American Apparel’s reaction (the taking away of your prize and the defensive and dismissive email you received) what has been your response? You have said that you really didn’t want to model for them anyway, but what are you hoping people will see with this situation?

NU: I didn’t really respond to the public email from American Apparel, and I don’t really think I need to. It speaks for itself. The creative director invited me out to LA to visit the factory and corporate offices, so I’m going to do that. I think it will be a good opportunity to open a dialogue about how to sell things to/for the plus-size crowd, and about female positivity in advertising. I hope people can see that it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously, but also has room for some genuine, mature humor, not just cutesy stuff.

Image courtesy and copyright of Shannon Skloss

PM: I’m reminded of when erotic star April Flores was informed by an AA showroom rep that “plus sizes weren’t the company’s demographic.” Not only is it turning down dollars, but its ultimately saying, yeah, no fat chicks allowed. Why do you think people are so scared or disdainful of “fat”? Why do you think are we still struggling with “plus-size is sexy” as a reality?

NU: “Fat” has been a bad word for such a long time, and I think it will take a while for people to start admitting it’s a grey area. Obviously, they are health problems associated with obesity, and it’s a major problem in America. However, there are a lot of people who just carry extra weight. Even at my most athletic, I still had some love handles and a bit of a belly- at that time I was playing contact sports six days a week and running one or two miles every day. It’s okay to be fat as long as you stay happy and healthy, and pretending that fat women can’t be attractive is ridiculous. TV shows can have pot-bellied male comedians in a lead role, but all of their wives are gorgeous, tiny women. If it was reversed, and a large woman was married to some sexy, svelte guy, the show would immediately revolve around that: “Hey, look at this fat chick bagging a cute husband.” So many perceptions and opinions are formed around the issue of weight, it’s going to take time for a lot of those to change, but I think it’s slowly starting to happen.

Giving it all she's got. Image courtesy and copyright of Shannon Skloss

PM: How do you think we as a culture can have a better dialogue about body privilege and recognize health and beauty at every size?

NU: Be honest and be respectful. Try to make fewer about people based on their weight or appearance. I can be just as guilty of this as everyone else, and it’s hard to train yourself not to do it automatically, but it’s important for us to realize that a LOT goes into someone’s weight that we’ll never know about. I had a friend once put on about 50 pounds after starting antidepressants, but looking at her, you never would have known that she had to make a choice between gaining weight and defeating severe depression.

Also, we need to see more plus-size women in all aspects of media coverage, not just dedicated plus-size clothing lines and as the plucky best friend on TV shows. They can do the same jobs as everybody else, yet how often do you see a plus-size woman behind a news desk?

Image courtesy and copyright of Shannon Skloss

PM: As far as modeling or even photography goes, do you have any plans for the future? What awesome work can we hope to see from you once this dies down?

NU: I’m working on a book with Shannon, and we’re really excited about that. I’ve been approached about modeling for a few designers/brands, and I’m going to dabble, but probably more from the aspect of “fun” than trying to make a career out of it. Otherwise, school and supporting the arts scene in Dallas.

You can find out more on Nancy, her upcoming projects and to further track the story, check her out at extrawiggleroom.tumblr.

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