This isn’t the first time you’ve messed up. It for sure won’t be the last. But this time it wasn’t just a nuisance – it was dangerous.
This week there were several tweets reporting that Forever 21 sent out Atkin’s diet bars and pamphlets in their online orders. It seemed that these “snacks” were only appearing in packages that included plus size clothing, but this hasn’t been confirmed and the company says that the Atkin’s bars went out in all online orders (as if this somehow makes it better?).
I am in several online groups about blogging and running a business. I’m also in many groups that are about being plus size and about fashion. Ya’ll – I cannot believe the amount of people who are saying that people getting upset about this are “too sensitive”. It doesn’t matter what size you are – having diets marketed to customers without their consent is unacceptable.
Why Is Everyone So Angry?
It’s clear when you walk into Forever 21’s store that they are targeting their market toward young people. That can’t be denied. They are aware that they are serving tweens and teens with their clothing. So let’s just get real for a second here and share some facts about young people, eating disorders, and diet culture:
- Hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 years old increased by 119 percent between the years of 1999 and 2006
- Binge Eating Disorder was found to usually start during late adolescence or in the early twenties
- Onset of anorexia nervosa is most commonly around the same time as puberty
- 51% of girls 9 and 10 years old feel better about themselves when they are dieting
- 40% of girls in grade ten and 37% of girls in grade nine thought of themselves as being too fat. Of those students that were “normal weight” based on their BMI, 19% still thought that they were too fat, and 12% of the students admitted to trying to lose weight
- 91% of women who were surveyed on a college campus had tried to control their weight by dieting, and 22% of them dieted “often” or all the time
I can remember being introduced to Weight Watchers while I was in elementary school. My mom had the points book sitting in her side table and I would read through it, mentally taking note of what I ate in the day and what my total points were. By the time I was in High School I was restricting my diet to around 300 calories per day. I started having anxiety attacks and would occasionally pass out from hunger. I once fell down the stairs after class because I blacked out after not eating all day. My best friend caught me and I made her promise not to tell anyone.
Here’s the thing – my mom never ever said a bad word about my body. In fact, she was incredible about not encouraging dieting! Whenever we needed food, we were encouraged to eat. She told me I was beautiful, and I knew I was loved just as I was. But that didn’t get rid of that Weight Watchers pamphlet. It was there. Tucked away. Telling me that I could starve into a better version of myself.
Impact Over Intention
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. Marketing departments have access to all the information they could possibly need and this was a massive fail on Forever 21’s part. From a business perspective – wow F21, ya fucked up.
From a consumers perspective, you didn’t just fuck up – you caused harm. Serious, irrepairable harm. I don’t know how many young people saw the ads included with these bars that reportedly said “forget 20% off your order – take 20% off your weight!”. We don’t know how many households those diet bars snuck into. Who’s to say how many teens and young women started their Aktins diet after receiving your packages.
Your intention may have never been to hurt anyone, but that doesn’t negate your impact. As a store with 600 locations, reaching millions of young adults worldwide, you’ve got to do better. You’ve got to inform your employees both in your stores and in upper management that they have a responsibility toward their customers. When you target a market that is young you have to be aware of how you’re effecting them at all times.
And to those of you who believe that the people who are upset are being “too sensitive” – there is no room for your complacency in the fight against eating disorders. It does not matter if you love “snacks” or not, diet culture is much bigger than a damn lemon Atkin’s bar. Listen to people’s stories and work to understand why these seemingly small errors in judgement have such a huge impact on people.
We should all work to be protecting our youth from eating disorders and self hate. And that means standing up when we see something harmful. Do better. Be better.