Another company has discontinued athletic wear that I use. This is a big deal – there isn’t a lot of good technical gear for fathletes so once you find something you want to be able to buy it over and over. So I called them. The reason they initially gave me is that they didn’t sell enough in my size.
We had this conversation, it’s not the first time that I’ve had a conversation like this. (I’m keeping the company private because I don’t want to get the guy I spoke with in trouble since he was honest with me and it’s not his fault.)
Me: “Do you mind if I ask how you marketed them?”
Him: “I’m not sure.”
Me: “I’m asking because I’m looking at your website and based on all of the pictures on there I would think that you didn’t sell anything over an adult medium”
Him: Laughs uncomfortably. “I see what you’re saying and I agree that’s probably a big part of the problem. It’s come up in conversations but [the company] feels that the images on our website should be aspirational.”
Me: “So [the company] feels that everyone should aspire to be thin and that people of other sizes should not have role models or have a chance to see people who look like us wearing your clothes, even though you sell clothes in our sizes and want our money?”
Him: “I don’t agree with it, but basically yes.”
Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but that is total crap. If there is anywhere to put my feedback, you can let folks know that I buy several pieces of clothing from you besides the one that was discontinued in my size, and while it doesn’t seem like the company wants me as a customer anyway, it’s definitely lost me now.”
Him: “I understand and I’ll pass it along. Do you want me to give them your contact info in case they want to contact you?”
Me: “That would be great.”
This idea of “aspirational” images is far too often used as a way to justify reinforcing the current stereotype of beauty which is typically thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied (and which, thanks to Photoshop, at this point is only actually achievable via digital enhancement.) Representation matters. Seeing people who look like you – whether it’s in athletics, or television and movies, or on stage, or doing whatever it is that you want to do – is important. Denying people role models who look like them isn’t aspirational, it’s cruel, and it’s oppressive, and it’s bullshit.
We each get to choose what we aspire to, and none of us is obligated to aspire to a stereotype that is used to exclude and oppress us and others. We have the opportunity to speak out against the idea that the choice to exclude so many people is doing anything other than putting the ass in aspirational.
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