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Retail Stores Debate: Are You Healthy, or Fat?


Retail stores are facing some serious backlash after image issues from this spring. Presumably, you’ve heard about the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy from May. Around the same time, H&M introduced a plus size model – who shortly vanished from the site. It’s clear that retail stores can’t decide how they want to portray their brand, and alienating their customers – particularly when more than 60% of American women now qualify as “overweight” – seems like a questionable business move in today’s society. So today we’re going to look at a controversial issue: are you healthy, or fat?

Abercrombie & Fitch “Fat” Controversy
The Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries, made a controversial comment in a 2006 Salon article about the brand’s target audience. The quote itself was: “In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong.”

The quote resurfaced this spring, and went viral in a blitz that has sparked outrage and even celebrity protests. To add insult to injury, last year it emerged that employees at A&F were expected to carry out “physical exercises” while at work to maintain the “thin and beautiful” look. They’ve been sued in the past for discriminating against ethnic groups, and choosing only “attractive” sales assistants.

H&M’s Plus-Size Model
Around the same time as the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy, H&M launched a new advertising campaign around plus size model Jennie Runk. Jennie is a size 12 to 14 model, and we think she’s absolutely gorgeous! It’s great that H&M used a plus size model, but unfortunately, she didn’t last long on the home page.

Within a few weeks – or sooner – after appearing on the H&M home page – and getting a lot of publicity for it – Jennie was nowhere to be found. She’s no longer on their home page, or their swimwear page – instead, if you drill down to “H&M + Size 14-24” you’ll find a single picture of Jennie. I think it’s great that H&M used a plus size model, but it’s a shame that they quickly buried her on the site – shortly after getting a wash of publicity for working with her.

How Do You Feel?
Jennie has done a round of interviews and personal writing, and she aptly pinpoints the stigmatizing of plus-size women. Jennie also notes an all-important fact: size doesn’t equate to health. Plenty of women are healthy at size 10, or 12, 14 or even 16 – in fact, the average American woman is a 14 these days. The idea that retailers want to “hide” the average American body, and that there’s all this stigma attached to “plus-size” – which is, nowadays, the average size – is appalling to many women.

Where do you come in on the debate? Are you an “average” American woman? How do you feel about the “plus size” label? And do you feel that you’re healthy, or fat – and should that even matter?

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