Full disclosure: I did not attend the Lane Bryant #PlusIsEqual rally in Times Square. However, I have been reading accounts of it and paying attention to the campaign as a whole.
And I have to say, it’s disappointing.
The campaign lacks diversity in many ways — size, shape, ability, etc. The women photographed are on the small end of plus and have roughly the same shape, which is an hourglass figure with a relatively flat stomach and proportionate breasts. Though it is somewhat refreshing to see them in ads compared to the millions of photos of extremely thin models out there, it falls far short of being the revolution Lane Bryant has tried to sell it as.
Virgie Tovar’s discussion of the Times Square event hits on some very important points about the whole campaign. But one major takeaway is that it’s not really about fat liberation, it’s about marketing.
The company has co-opted terminology of the fat acceptance movement to sell clothing to people who are often more or less forced to buy clothing from them anyway (while many awesome plus size designers and stores have popped up in recent years, LB remains the most mainstream and widely available option, at least in the U.S.). What’s worse is that they also actively engage in fatphobia while doing so.
The brand has long since used sizeist methods and language in their operations, including selling Spanx in stores and emphasizing things like “smoothing” or “flattering” looks in their clothing. Their size range of 14-28 is not inclusive of superfats. This campaign and rally is no exception. On top of the fact that the models they use are not representative of the majority of their clientele (models rarely are, but when trying to promote an inclusive image perhaps use inclusive representatives), Tovar’s account of the rally relays some horrifying events.
First, their shirts were not available above an XL. Judging by photos, it appears that this means a men’s/unisex XL. That’s what I usually buy in t-shirts. I then cut them up for a more tailored fit, but to get over my belly and chest that’s what I need. In Lane Bryant tops I usually need an 18/20, sometimes a 22/24, so I’m more or less right in the middle of their size range. So in promoting the idea that plus sizes are equal, they are explicitly making sure that half of their client base is excluded and therefor unequal. The company has since claimed that larger t-shirts were available, but I don’t believe them. If someone out there had received a 2X or 3X shirt, knowing the uproar that has happened, we would have heard from them. There would have been a blogger out there in the world who had a picture of a size tag to share. But there hasn’t been a peep.
Additionally, there were speakers at the rally who were touting their own weight loss and making admonishments against eating “too much.” This is absolutely appalling and unforgivable for what is supposed to be a fat positive event. You cannot seek to uplift fat people while also giving credence to an industry that profits off the oppressive standard that thin is good and fat is bad. Those two things just do not go together. I know there are people out there who think fat acceptance and weight loss can coexist, but I am not one of them. The principles behind weight loss are inherently oppressive, and promoting them at a plus size celebration event is unconscionable.
Instead of being used as a marketing tool and fed an oppressive bill of goods, I want a rally that promotes real, radical body acceptance. I want models with flabby arms, big bellies, and multiple chins. I want models of different gender presentations, abilities, and races. I want to hear about Health at Every Size instead of weight loss (without setting up a good/bad fatty dichotomy). I want t-shirts that fit everyone who attends. I want jiggly tummies in crop tops and gapless thighs in short shorts, or whatever people are comfortable wearing. I don’t want a watered-down, palatable crumb of acceptance, I want radical fat liberation.