In a tone-deaf tribute to diet culture’s sexism and fatphobia, Macy’s and Forever 21 have made it clear to customers where they stand on body positivity and fat acceptance—not in favor. This past week both mega-retailers have thoughtlessly promoted body dissatisfaction to their largely female consumer base, with Macy’s releasing a dinnerware collection featuring different portion sizes and touting disordered messages such as, “on the lips” to “on the hips,” and “skinny jeans” versus “mom jeans” for smaller and larger portions, respectively. Forever 21 has sent Atkins low-carb diet bars with their online orders, primarily to those have purchased from the plus-sized section of the website.
Although both companies have since pulled the offensive products and “promotions,” their explanations are lacking as to why such fatphobic decisions were made in the first place. Forever 21 released a statement apologizing for the insulting product, while also claiming that the diet bars were not targeted at plus-sized orders in particular, but sent as a freebie “across all sizes and categories.” Macy’s has similarly apologized for “missing the mark” on their line of plates and glasses, while the corporation’s supplier, Pourtions, has said that their intention was a humorous encouragement of portion control, not a harmful one.
I went from a size 24 to 18, still a plus size girl, so I ordered jeans from @Forever21 Opened the package, when I looked inside I see this Atkins bar. What are you trying to Tell me Forever 21, I’m FAT, LOSE WEIGHT? do you give these to NON-PLUS SIZE WOMEN as well? pic.twitter.com/ds8kUTs7T7— MissGG🏳️🌈 (@MissGirlGames) July 19, 2019
Unfortunately, these excuses also miss the mark. The companies only pulled the products after receiving immense backlash on social media, including that of actor, Jameela Jamil, of The Good Place, who tweeted “Fuck these plates,” in reference to the Macy’s line. In the classically indifferent company apologies, excuses were the top priority. Accountability came second. Although Pourtions claimed that their plates were meant to be lighthearted and funny, normalizing diet culture through “jokes” is far from harmless. The blasé attitude in which we write off disordered eating and body dissatisfaction encourages silence and stigma surrounding eating disorders, while also perpetuating a culture of fatphobia.
In defense against the accusations of fatphobia, Forever 21 attempted to vindicate themselves on the grounds that the Atkins diet bars were sent in orders across all sizes—as if that would make it any better. In a deeply fatphobic society, is important to understand that fat people are harmed by far the most by any body shaming cultural messaging. However, encouraging your entire consumer base to diet, is still pretty damn bad. Especially when you consider that the largest demographic of Forever 21 shoppers is teenage girls. The same teenage girls who are at the greatest risk of developing an eating disorder.
Body positive customers have rallied on social media against Macy’s and Forever 21. Company accountability in the digital age is certainly promising—with both corporations responding to complaints and call-outs on Twitter and Facebook. Macy’s plates first garnered widespread anger after Alie Ward from CBS posted a picture of the plates, asking, “How can I get these plates from @Macys banned in all 50 states?” Despite many agreeing that the stores’ messages were hateful and dangerous, the original supplier of the dinnerware has been overwhelmed by orders since Macy’s pulled the product. The Pourtions mission statement touts waistlines “exploding like the national debt” and arteries “jammed like Grand Central Station” as reasons for the brand’s founding. However, much like the company’s attempts at good jokes, their articulation of purpose also falls short. While the company claims the more general “American obesity” as its target (again, not any better), it fails to recognize that diet-culture and fatphobia is super, super gendered. As Pourtions’ designs employ widely-recognizable feminized fashion tropes such as mom jeans and skinny jeans, it is clear that the products are specifically targeting women. It is undeniably sexist for these brands and corporations to promote the “ideal, thin body” as women struggle everywhere to accept and love themselves and their bodies just as they are.
At least one woman seems to be trying and succeeding to do just that. While Macy’s and Forever 21 have spent the last week promoting fatphobia, model and actor, Angelia Duplisea, has made a strong statement about fat positivity in Miley Cyrus’ new music video, “Mother’s Daughter.” In an instagram pic that Cyrus reposted, Duplisea writes, “Next time you see a fat person posting pictures of themselves living their life, stop and ask yourself why you wish to spoil their joy. I guarantee that you can’t come up with a valid reason that isn’t based in your own ego gratification.” Hopefully companies like Forever 21, Pourtions, and Macy’s can take a page from Duplisea’s book, and learn a thing or two—so that there is no “next time.”
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Gracie Western is an editorial intern for BUST. She is currently an undergraduate, seeking a B.A. in Sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She may be the only person in the world whose unfixable computer virus is not from porn, but from illegally streaming the 2018 Winter Olympics.