In April, a Target customer shopping on the company’s website noticed an odd difference in some product names: A certain dress was available in standard sizes in a color known as “dark heather gray”, but in plus sizes the equivalent item’s color was “manatee gray”. Blogger Susan Clemens promptly took advantage of the wonders of Twitter and spread the news all over social media.
Target representatives immediately took to Twitter to apologize and explain that they were “working to fix the problem.” But the damage was done. Suddenly reporters and Facebook enthusiasts alike were looking at how size-oriented our culture is.
Face it. Our country’s size is increasing. Everywhere I look I see overweight and obese Americans walking about Philadelphia. But there is no reason why they, and even the politely dubbed “curvy” people should be ridiculed and isolated at every turn.
For example, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale do not sell plus-sized clothes. When asked about this, a spokesperson for A&F responded: “There are two kinds of people in school. The cool people and the uncool people. We’re marketing towards the cool people.” This is explicitly saying that a fat person cannot be “popular” or “cool”, no matter how smart, funny or kind they might be. Forget plus-size. Aeropostale doesn’t sell clothes above a size 16! How embarrassing would it be to walk into a crowded store, head over to the jeans section, and be told you’re too large to buy any clothes? These brands could not have been more explicit if they had hung a sign on the door saying: “If you’re not skinny, don’t come in.”
Writers, parents and even kids our age wonder why eating disorders are so prevalent, especially among girls. The answer is right in front of us. From a very young age, girls are taught that skinny equals beautiful. There aren’t any plus-size Barbies, are there? Miss America is never crowned for her inability to fit into a size 1 bikini, is she? And so, when a person (especially at this “susceptible” age) feels awkward in their own skin because of the images of “beauty” they’re constantly bombarded with, they develop an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, which can be fatal.
Unfortunately, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. At the end of August, an Oregon teenager named Shelby Buster celebrated her 14th birthday with a shopping trip with her mother and a friend. As the two girls walked into Rue21, an employee reportedly walked up to Shelby and told her, “Hey, you’re too big to be in this store. I need you to leave.” Shelby took to the company’s Facebook page and posted:
“Well “happy birthday” to me! The rue 21 in Eugene, Oregon told me I was to fat and told me to leave the store! I can’t believe it! Thanks for ruining my birthday rue 21!”,
The company immediately objected to Shelby’s claim, blathering on about their “no discrimination” policy and how they “welcome diverse customers.” I doubt that helped Shelby feel any better about her body.
The head spokesperson for Abercrombie and Fitch is also in some hot water for saying that he wouldn’t want homeless people wearing his company’s clothes. A man then mocked the company by donating a huge amount of clothing to the homeless.
As our country struggles with a huge obesity problem, the most important line to remember, for companies and middle schoolers alike (yes, it sounds cheesy), is: “Be comfortable with who you are.”
Illustration by Thea Applebaum Licht