Levi’s New Curve ID Jeans Proving To Be Controversial

Levi’s is selling new Curve ID jeans in three different versions: a “slight curve,” a “demi curve,” and a “bold curve.” The sizes in the various versions basically range from 2 to 14 (although I’m aware sizes are completely and non-sensically different from company to company.) The tag line for the ad campaign is “All asses are not created equal.” The models are three light-skinned women who appear to be Caucasian. Although “curviness” is relative, none of them are curvy in the way, say, J.Lo, Beyoncé, or Crystal Renn is curvy.

To some it’s just an ad campaign for “curvy” jeans. To others, it’s racist and sexist advertising.

These are some of the criticisms of Levi’s Curve ID campaign and at the very end of this piece, I’ll respond with my thoughts on them:

The sizes range from approximately 2 to 14. But those sizes are not at all inclusive, considering many curvy women — arguably the curviest women — are over a size 14.

Terms like “curves” and “plus size” are relative and blogger Jen Phillips at MotherJones.com strongly questions how curviness is being interpreted by Levi’s:

“The jeans will only be offered in waist sizes 22 to 34, while the average American woman has a 37″ waist. I couldn’t find what percent of women have a 22″ waist, but I’m betting it’s far fewer than those with waists larger than 34″. So I’m not sure why Levi’s chose to pay to make 22″ jeans that’ll fit a few women rather than 36″ jeans that would fit far more.”

Generally speaking, to put a size 2 or size 4 woman in jeans that enhance her “curves” sounds like co-opting curviness. That pisses off women who are truly curvy. You want to see real curves? Look at Crystal Renn. Look at Jennifer Lopez. Look at Christina Hendricks. Look at Beyoncé.

All three of the models in the ad campaign appear to be small, while plus-size/larger are arguably the ones with more curvy figures. It seem as if Levi’s is only targeting slimmer women instead of being more inclusive to customers who would truly appreciate more options when denim shopping.

A feminist blogger friend, Shelby Knox, summed this up most succinctly:

“… all the models in the ad are the exact same size and that size is small, smaller than the average American woman you’re supposedly trying to reach. If you put the words ‘Bold Curve’ next to a woman, I expect her to have, um, bold curves and preferably legs that don’t look like toothpicks.”

Jen Phillips at MotherJones.com adds:

“Levi’s had a great chance here to show they understand the diversity of women’s bodies. They could have used full-figured women or at least a model of color, but instead they chose to use slender models to demonstrate they understand how to fit American women who are on average 5’4″ and 160 lbs. The choice of traditional models is even more disappointing when you learn that Levi’s used 60,000 body scans from 13 countries to develop the fit system, reports the the Los Angeles Times.”

All three of the models in the ad campaign appear to be Caucasian, while women of color are arguably the ones with more curvy figures.

Oh, joy, more Caucasian models! They have so much trouble getting work, don’t they? (Sarcasm.) Knox addressed Levi’s sharply on this point:

“… your target audience, do you only imagine her as white? Some women of color have just as hard a time finding jeans as some white women and I’d assume you would agree their asses are just as equal, right? RIGHT??? Take a step into the 21st century and cast your models to look a little more like America.”

Or to phrase it like GoddessJaz, a biracial black blogger on Feministing, it’s “cultural (mis)appropriation.” She adds:

“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.” 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.”

In other words, the Curve ID ad makes it seem as if Levi’s is only targeting a specific audience: white women who want to fake Beyoncé’s curves.

The tag line “All asses are not created equal” implies some bodies are more favored than others.

This tag line is too “ambiguous,” writes GoddessJaz, as it could be interpreted as saying some asses are better than others (in particular the ones I have already mentioned: caucasian and relatively small). Jen Phillips called the tag line “off-putting.” All body types — whether it’s ass size, boob size, hair length, skin color, nose size, whatever — should be valued equally. It’s offensive to even suggest something would be better than something else. “Your very tag line undermines your whole campaign by implying the same ‘some butts, i.e., smaller butts, are more deserving of jeans than others’ trope that you’re claiming to subvert,” writes Knox.

Coupled with an image of three light-skinned women, the tag line “All asses are not created equal” implies curvy white women have the ideal asses.

Again, GoddezzJaz at Feministing:

“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.”

So. That’s a lot. Now for my response. If you’re still reading at this point, gold star for you. This topic is obviously very complicated, so I want to address the nuances separately.

As a white woman whose ass has generally fit between a size 4/6 (in high school and college) and a size 12 (in the past year after I gained a lot of weight from my depression medication), I have no idea what it’s like to not be able to find jeans to fit my figure. I’ve had jeans-related nightmares, but all of them involved me growing out of jeans that had previously fit. Women of color with curvier figures are totally justified to criticize Curve ID jeans for not fitting people with a thin waist and a big butt. I hear what they’re saying; I agree it’s unjust and I agree, to a certain extent, Levi’s is co-opting curviness. To that end, it’s even more frustrating all the models in this Curve ID ad are light-skinned and Caucasian-looking. I can’t, and won’t, stick up for Levi’s on that one. I mean, really, some diversity, please.

But a lot of the above criticisms I don’t agree with. Although I can see why the tag line can be interpreted to say some butts are better than others, I personally didn’t read it that way. I read the tag line “All asses are not created equal” as simply referring to the jeans, i.e., everyone has different-sized butts and we need more diverse jean options. Critics say that the “All asses are not created equal” line obviously went through many layers of approval at Levi’s corporate, as well as the advertising agency that handled the campaign, and why did no one veto it because it could potentially be offensive? My response is to say that the tag line is open to interpretation and if you go through life as a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You can find a problem with it if you want, or you can give people the benefit of the doubt.

Why do I give them the benefit of the doubt? Because I think Levi’s is trying. Maybe they don’t deserve a pat on the head and a cookie, but they’re trying. Their Curve ID campaign is at least acknowledging that standard fare denim does not adequately cover the asses of tons of women — for example, this size 12 blogger with a big butt — and I appreciate that. But if you poke around elsewhere on the Levi’s site, under the “Special Sizes” heading you will find plus-size jeans. Levi’s offers 22 different styles of plus-size jeans, 16 X M to 24 X M, as well as a plus-size jean jacket in sizes 1XX and 2XX. (For what it’s worth, Levi’s sells a bunch of petite sizes, too.) I don’t see why the company would want to risk offending their plus-size customers by elsewhere claiming “All asses are created equal” to mean larger asses are big, fat, and ugly. That shows to me that Levi’s really does try to cater to women of diverse sizes. Levi’s cannot cater to everybody, but they are trying.

About a month ago, The New York Times ran an article called “Plus-Size Wars” about how difficult it can be for clothing companies to make clothes in diverse sizes. I realize that having a big booty does not mean someone is plus-size. But I still think that this article about plus-size clothes is relevant because there’s a part that’s applicable to answering the question of why Levi’s didn’t make Curve ID sizes larger than size 14. The Times is totally going to sue my curvy-ass for quoting them on this much of their article, but I think it’s all important to share:

The most formidable obstacle lies in creating a prototype. If you already have a line of clothing and a set system of sizing, you cannot simply make bigger sizes. You need whole new systems of pattern-making. “The proportions of the body change as you gain weight, but for women within a certain range of size, there is a predictability to how much, born out by research dating to the 1560s,” explained Kathleen Fasanella, who has made patterns for women’s coats and jackets for three decades. “We know pretty well what a size 6 woman will look like if she edges up to a 10; her bustline might increase an inch,” Fasanella said. “But if a woman goes from a size 16 to a 20, you just can’t say with any certainty how her dimensions will change.”

Thin people are more like one another; heavier people are less like one another. With more weight comes more variation. “You’ll have some people who gain weight entirely in their trunk, some people who will gain it in their hips,” Fasanella continued. “As someone getting into plus-size, you can either make clothing that is shapeless and avoid the question altogether or target a segment of the market that, let’s say, favors a woman who gets larger in the hip. You really have to narrow down your customer.” A designer must then find a fit model who represents that type and develop a pattern around her. But even within the subcategories, there are levels of differentiation. “Armholes are an issue,” Fasanella told me, by way of example. “If you have decided to go after the woman who is top-heavy, well, some gain weight in their upper arms and some do not. There are so many variables; you never win.””

Perhaps Levi’s as a company didn’t want to go up higher than size 14 because, according to their research, sizes 16, 18, and so on would vary so differently woman to woman and therefore wouldn’t sell well. That’s their prerogative as a company. I’m not defending industry-prescribed norms across the board, but the Times article made me understand why they exist. And that, I suppose, is why I feel the need to defend them. I hate attacking people or corporations who are trying, because, personally, I have been been discouraged and had the wind let out of my sails when people did not give me the benefit of the doubt.

Is Levi’s Curve ID ad campaign perfect? No, certainly not. But I don’t think it is as bad as all the criticism it is getting. I’m fine with being disagreed with on this point, but I’ll save my critiques of calling something “sexist” or “racist” for other issues.

[Levi’s Curve ID]
[ShelbyKnox.com: Levi’s New Ad Campaign Falls On Its Butt]
[Feministing: All Asses Are Not Created Equal]
[New York Times Magazine: Plus-Size Wars]

Tags: butt, denim, jeans, levis, race