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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