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Last week Lane Bryant hosted an event in Time’s Square that was supposed to… ummm… I don’t know. Someone tell me what the fuck this event was supposed to do? Did it make Lane Bryant’s clothes less matronly? Did they suddenly stop running constant and ridiculous sales so that we could just get moderately priced clothes whenever we wanted? Did they decide to start using fatter models in their campaigns? More people of color? No, it appears none of that has changed. So why were we subjected to this strangely anti-fat campaign?
Yes, you guessed it. It was a giant publicity stunt. Set on the backs of fat activisits everywhere, Lane Bryant decided that the next frontier in clothing retail is to pretend to be “hip” with the social movement that body positivity is leading. They even brought along some of their favorite bloggers to help set the mood. My social media feeds were filled with half hearted attempts at talking up the campaign and influential plus size people pretending like they actually shop at Lane Bryant. It was entertaining, to say the least. But that wasn’t even the most frustrating part of the #plusisequal campaign.
Once people started asking questions about the campaign to both bloggers and sponsors of the #plusisequal event things got a little heated. And by “heated” I mean… the super “accepting” faces of our plus size movement (not so) suddenly became oppressively dismissive of people’s criticisms.
Certainly, none of us expected participants in the #plusisequal campaign to become spokespersons for Lane Bryant, but there is some expectation that when you participate in a campaign with a company you will allow people to engage with you about the company and it’s possible short comings. Because a person’s social media is frequently the reason they are hired for a campaign, it makes sense that people would look to that outlet to air their grievances and get the attention of the campaign. But people really had a problem with this. In the age of social media, anyone who speaks up about an injustice is immediately labelled a “hater” or possibly worse, “negative”. Not so shockingly, the people bearing the brunt of those labels were the same people that companies continuously fail to represent: people of color.
Which is ironic, isn’t it? In a community of oppressed fat people, who know first hand what it is like to be talked over and silenced, we’re still doing it to others. While we’re creating a campaign that says #plusisequal we’re demonstrating that #PLUSISNOTEQUAL to anyone who doesn’t look like an “acceptable” fatty. In our community based around social justice and the acceptance of all people, we continue to shun anyone who’s voice is perceived as too loud. Meanwhile, the people participating in the campaigns claim we’re all fighting for the same thing and shouldn’t be criticizing “progress”.
Here’s what I have to say to that: the fight for equality does not stop just because people who look like you are being recognized. Intersectionality does not only extend to the lengths of your own fingertips, it includes all people. And that means that we are not all fighting for the same things. The fat community is made of all kinds of people and as I’ve said before, fat acceptance does not only extend to young white women, it is a cause that is important to people across cultures. That means that we have to be aware of the problems other people face and how they are overcoming them or speaking out about them and we have to use that knowledge to move forward. That means allowing people to be heard, it means advocating for people who’s voices are being ignored. That means, when you have the ability to foster a discussion about inclusivity and intersectionality you take it.
We are a part of a community. A huge (haha) community. And the people who are creating the most forward motion are the ones who continue to challenge our perceptions of what is acceptable and push us to be more inclusive by sharing their experiences. I implore you to reach out and listen to people in our community that do not look like you, because their criticisms are valid and essential to our success as a movement. I hope that Lane Bryant and other companies will also strive to reach out going forward. There is no power in our progress if it ends with ourselves.