Why Is Levi’s Talking About My Ass?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 18 2010 2:47 PM

Why Is Levi’s Talking About My Ass?

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Julia  Felsenthal Julia Felsenthal

Julia Felsenthal is an assistant at Slate.

I was flipping through the pages of the September issue of Elle magazine when I noticed a new ad for Levi’s jeans for women, promoting a line called Curve ID . Curve ID introduces three new fits to Levi’s women’s jeans, tailored to three different sizes of butts: the slight curve, the demi curve, and the bold curve (though in the pictures illustrating the three styles, each model wears a size 25, and each butt is pretty indistinguishable from the next). What gave me pause, though, were not the ubiquitously scrawny behinds, but the campaign’s slogan: All Asses Were Not Created Equal, scrawled in upper-case handwriting above a poorly punctuated manifesto meant to riff off of the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty poem.

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I was taken aback by seeing the word ass in a magazine ad. It felt especially surprising coming from a heritage brand like Levi’s. Clearly Levi’s is playing off the idea that acknowledging and accommodating differences in shape and size is a bold and shocking move, one that apparently must be accompanied by a bold and shocking slogan. I say kudos to Levi’s for introducing an expanded range of fits, but it’s a shame that they had to do it in such a sleazy way. Ass has none of the cuteness of butt and none of the playfulness of booty. Ass feels overtly sexual, even a bit scatological, but most of all it feels undignified and hard-edged.

The word choice in the Curve ID slogan is particularly weird in light of near simultaneous announcement of two new collaborations on the menswear side of Levi’s- with Filson , the Seattle-based outdoors outfitting brand, and with Brooks Brothers . (The Curve ID line was announced August 9, and the Filson and Brooks Brothers collaborations were announced August 3 and July 29, respectively.) It’s impossible to imagine the ad for Levi’s for Brooks Brothers urging men to get their preppy asses into a pair of Levi’s and a button-down, nor the ad for the Filson collaboration making reference to the freezing asses of Alaskan frontiersmen. In fact, it’s hard to imagine Levi’s marketing anything to men in terms of their asses.

All three initiatives bank on the idea of signature American-ness, but that means something very different for men and women, at least in the eyes of the Levi’s marketing team. While the Curve ID ad encourages women to think of their butts as a "national treasure" and to celebrate the "democracy" that allows them to encase themselves in stretch denim, the press releases announcing the Filson and Brooks Brothers collaborations remind men of their pioneering American spirit and their distinctly American appreciation of authenticity, quality and integrity . These heritage brand partnerships reiterate to the male Levi’s jeans wearer that his Levi’s are on the one hand classic, and on the other hand classy. The Curve ID ad campaign reminds me that I have an ass and I want it to look good.

As a female Levi’s jeans wearer, I’m not only perturbed on an intellectual level, but also on a practical level: Why do men get more durable fabric, better manufacturing, and stylish vintage remixes, and women get a little extra room in the seat and an ad campaign that makes buying a pair of Levi’s feel like buying a thong?