07 May 2013

More From the Fat-Hate Canon

After enjoying a very productive day of wallowing in self-pity thanks to my weight loss dramas, this little gem came across my reader:  Abercrombie Wants Thin Customers.   In a nutshell, A&F has decided that it will no longer carry anything (for women) over a size 10/ L.  Apparently the marketing plan is to appeal to "cool kids" only and, as we all know, the only way to be cool is to fit a certain set of arbitrary cosmetic standards.

I am of two minds on this one:

On the one hand, it is not A&F's job to cater to everyone, it is their job to make money and keep shareholders happy.  Lots of stores make a name for themselves by catering to a niche market.  Lane Bryant doesn't carry size 2s, Motherhood Maternity doesn't carry men's pants and Dick's doesn't sell prom gowns.  Add in that many designer/couture lines won't even make clothes over a 6 since 8+is considered plus size in that industry and you see that this kind of niche catering is more the rule than the exception. See also the linked article about how "radical" it was that H&M used a "plus-sized" model...the fact that this is newsworthy hints at a larger problem...no? (Though props to H&M for generally trying to introduce the idea of fashion for all body types.) The real question here is not "why is the A&F CEO such a douchey-little-stuck-in-seventh-grade-twit?'" the questions is "why is this a viable marketing scheme?"  Sadly, if you read the comments, this is a brilliant marketing ploy.  Among the teen/tween set, this is pure merchandising gold. Not only can we capitalize on the idea that thinness is inherently linked to a higher moral standard, but now you can use your clothes to ostracize anyone who fails to meet that standard. Outstanding. I was unaware that the "pleased to be making all the fatties feel like shit" faction of the market was so large.  Actually could have lived without that knowledge.  Thanks!   While it is appalling that this cultural standard exists, I can't really blame A&F for capitalizing on the trend.  It makes you a bad company (and you should feel bad), but it will probably also make you billions so, you know, capitalism.

On the other hand...man, there is lots to be pissed about here:
  • Inherent fat-shaming, or in this case, "normal-shaming"- Lets face it many very healthy/fit people wear larger than a 10.  Sure, in my case I am 5'3" and wear a 14 because I could stand to lose a few, but what if someone is 6' tall.  They may need a 14 because well, big people have big proportions and someone with a healthy BMI (for all that matters) at that height may still wear a 14.  
  • Encouraging unhealthy behaviors in young women- I am absolutely not implying that anyone who is classically thin has an eating disorder, but I am saying that creating a retail culture that caters so heavily to the idea that "thinner is better" may encourage impressionable young women to make unhealthy choices.  It may be a melodramatic stretch, but I think it is worth mentioning.
  • The blatant sexism of the double standard- This size restriction applies only the women's line. Men can still purchase XL/XXL because of course men who require larger sizes do so because they are athletic while all women who require larger sizes are all just fatties who should try harder to not be so gross.  True story.
  • The "junior-high" feel of it all- This is almost the most offensive part.  The fact that the fashion industry is unkind to plus-size people is no great secret. However, most companies do it in far more subtle (though no less problematic) ways.  The fact that this campaign is based on being a "cool kid" and perpetuating the cliquey/mean girls/bully mentality is just beyond the beyond.  I guess we now know what happens to people who never outgrow middle school: they go on to be delusional CEO's of cruddy clothing companies.
Thankfully, in sharp contrast, there are people/companies out there who see the inherent value in marketing to plus sized, or even normal sized, customers. I love this post from The Heavyweight Chronicles. This is especially becoming true in the world of athletic apparel.  Apparently someone finally realized that if the goal of making everyone thinner really is because we care about everyone's health, and not because we care about how people look, then we need to support people who are overweight in their quest to change.  I think this is a key difference in philosophy; the suble difference between "fat is bad, so shun the fat people" and "obesity can be unhealthy, so lets help people feel empowered to get healthy." 

I certainly know which philosophy I will support with my retail spending.