Lane Bryant, Indecency, Sexiness, and Fat People

My Best Friend, Kelrick, got her for me at a little shop near his apartment in Astoria, I don’t know the artist
Recently Lane Bryant claimed that their ad has been rejected by major networks ABC and NBC for being “indecent” because they contained plus sized women, despite the fact that similar imagery of thin women is shown on those networks all the time. If these ads were rejected because their subjects are plus-sized then NBC’s rejection is particularly stinging because they are happy to show scantily clad fat people on The Biggest Loser (their abomination of a show in which they mentally and physically abuse fat people for profit,) but let fat people suggest that we have the right to love and celebrate our bodies and all of a sudden it’s indecent.

Of course immediately people jumped in to say that this is all a publicity stunt and that the rejection had nothing to do with the models being plus sized.  Lane Bryant released a statement:

The This Body campaign was meant to be a fun way for us to celebrate and honor women of all shapes and sizes. What is too much for some does not hold true for others. All women should be celebrated and feel empowered to express themselves as they see fit. We want her to know she can attract as much media attention, look just as striking as any woman, and decide what beautiful means to her. The This Body commercial holds nothing back. It is a true celebration of women of all sizes doing what makes THEM feel beautiful whether its breastfeeding their newborn, flaunting their bodies the way they see fit, breaking down barriers all around and simply being who they are or want to be!

Lane Bryant’s “Plus is Equal” and “This Body” campaigns have had some issues, as Virgie Tovar and Jes Baker have discussed.  But there are more layers to this. I recently had the honor of being on a panel for Harmony Eichsteadt’s Wild Women Wednesday. The subject was Wild Self Love and the panel included Jamia Wilson, April Weathers, Siobhan Barros-Limón, and me.  We talked about a lot of aspects of self love, including the ideas of sex, sexuality, and feeling sexy.  I talked about how, as a fat woman, this is a complicated discussion.

Fat people are often told that we are, by definition, not sexy.  So ads like this one by Lane Bryant, or declarations from fat people that we can be just as sexy as thin people can be really empowering, and helpful to fat people’s realization that the idea of “sexy” is a huge part of the oppressive idea of beauty that is used to convince us to hate ourselves so that we buy things from the beauty and diet industries. But let’s dig down a couple layers:

First, the ads focus on a specific type of fat body (hour glass, big boobs, smaller fat, no stretchmarks, athletic, femme, cis gender, etc.)  There is nothing wrong with bodies like this, and it’s progress, but when Lane Bryant describes it as representing “women of all shapes and sizes” at best they make a lot of us invisible or, at worst, they risk reinforcing the idea that only some fat bodies are good fat bodies. Sometimes including a side of good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy.

Then there is the issue of objectification. While I want all people to have the ability to feel sexy, and be empowered sexually, I don’t want anyone’s value hinging on whether or not we are seen as “sexy” based on the male gaze or some stereotype of beauty. So I think there are issues with trying to find empowerment through the idea that we, too, can satisfy the male gaze, or to suggest that we if we can approximate every aspect of stereotypical beauty besides thinness we can be considered sexy.

So it’s complicated, and there are so many layers to this and no easy answers.  For me it’s about celebrating progress while also always pushing for the next step, and part of that is calling out the double standard of suggesting that what is perfectly fine for thin people is somehow indecent for fat people.

In the meantime, I totally recommend watching the Wild Women Wednesday video!

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9 thoughts on “Lane Bryant, Indecency, Sexiness, and Fat People

  1. Absolutely brilliant, thank you for discussing this. There are a lot of layers to this issue and I’m really glad to see and others on social media address this. I certainly don’t see my body in that advert, nor do I ever want to see my body objectified. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, that’s one small step for fat women, but definitely not a giant leap for fattykind.

  2. To me, it’s more about baby steps. My body is similar enough to some of the adverts that I can see myself, so maybe I’m privileged here, but I feel like I’d rather have a problematic ad that shows larger women than we usually see than the whole thing being killed in marketing because they pushed too far. Today, my stomach rolls, tomorrow, my stretch marks, you know?

    As for objectification, there’s a couple ways to look at it. It’s like, there’s a table, and it’s covered in shit, but all the thin white women get to sit at it, and we fat ladies are left out. What should we do first: demand a place at the table, or clean the shit off it? If we go for a place first, we’ll be able to work with the thin women to help clean it, but we’ll be sitting at a table covered in shit. If we try to clean first, we’ll be doing all this work and still not have a place at the table. So it’s pretty rough either way.

  3. I agree it’s a very complex issue, and I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here. To me it seems like in my grandparents’ day and before, the media–television, magazines, radio, movies, billboards–was very much a part of life and represented glamor. However, the idealized images portrayed (though they WERE influential) were not as ubiquitous or as persuasive or invasive as they are today.

    In a more tightly-knit, smaller community, the people you saw every day were the real people. The stuff from Madison Avenue and Hollywood might have provoked envy, but it wasn’t “real.” Most men in this scenario didn’t really expect their wives to look like Hedy Lamarr, or women expect their husbands to be Cary Grant.

    I don’t want to idealize the past here, though, because racism, sexism, narrow-mindedness, and all that stuff we’re still fighting were even more entrenched and the same forces that kept people from thinking they had to absolutely emulate a “perfect” type also kept them insulated from othering and opressing large groups of people.

    It’s interesting to me to see how much older male leading roles were in the 1960’s than they are today; how differently they cast British TV than American TV, and so on. Mothers of adults in older movies were often unglamorous, thick around the waist, actually had crepey necks and unsprayed hair, but were still loveable.

    We are so saturated by advertising and the Hollywood ideals of beauty, worthiness, and behavior (which includes messages like youth is inherantly better than age, with small exceptions for really young-looking old people, and thin is inherantly better, smarter, and more on the side of Good than fat) that it’s hard to realize that it’s all a hard-sell fantasy.

    We interact by Internet, where we can all show our bestest selfies, maybe a little Photoshopped or altered with SFX. Makeup is heavier-duty (remember, a hundred years ago, women were very sneaky about using makeup subtly, because “nice girls” didn’t). Plastic surgery for very minor cosmetic reasons is normal. There are gyms and steroids and Spanx everywhere (though corsets and girdles have existed forever!).

    In short, it’s “easier” for people today to approach the standard of beauty set by the media, no matter how preposterous. The closer they get, the more exclusive that ideal becomes, and the more marginalized people who don’t remotely approach that ideal become. And today we need more to see ourselves reflected in media images, because we are now much more a global society, and the media is to a large extent our shared reality. Advertisers, especially big monolithic corporate ones, are still just trying to make a buck at bottom, but will pretend to be sending social messages when it suits them. Perhaps some really feel a social conscience, but it does help to remember that exclusivity sells. Create a club and hint that maybe even you can join it if you buy their products or services.

    I’m looking forward to a time when we don’t see so many stereotypes in TV and film, when older and younger people of different races, cis and transgendered and queer people are simply shown interacting as People. We haven’t gotten there yet, but when we do, it’s more likely that advertisers will follow suit rather than pioneering.

  4. I read the “Plus is equal” and my brain just jumped onto the idea that I want a bumper sticker with “+=” or something similar on it… O_o;

    1. There is probably some place online where you can get bumper stickers made with whatever you want written on them. Or get a T-Shirt made from Custom Ink.

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