The perils of test marketing plus-size clothes

Jezebel is reporting on plans to introduce a plus-size line at the flagship store of Saks Fifth Avenue. Now, before you get super-excited, the expansion is only to size 14 across the board, though some lines will extend to size 20. But this does involve a lot of high-end labels that have a long tradition of avoiding even the lightest of the fatties like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, and others.

This naturally sparked some questions from Jezebel on the specifics of this plan. Saks doesn't seem eager for attention, though, and only offered a boilerplate statement. Surely, someone somewhere is taking their bland endorsement as cause for the next great fat panic, but I'm a little more concerned about the reticence to promote this.

See, what's going on here is a bit of product testing. This is only being launched in one location. They see how it goes, and then decide how to expand. Its like Old Navy a few years ago when they expanded plus-sizes in their stores. Anyone remember how that turned out?

There is a fundamental flaw in the test marketing of plus-size clothes by retailers who've never offered them. See, if McDonald's wants to test market a new sandwich, they can rely on the fact that the people coming into the store are looking to buy a meal. Maybe they didn't know that the McNewwich was on the menu, but they are still there to get something to eat.

That isn't the dynamic here. It would be more like Victoria's Secret introducing a line of jeans for fat men. I might be the target audience, but at no time in my life do I find myself walking into a Victoria's Secret so it won't much matter. I'm never going to happen upon their awesome jeans, because I had no reason to be in their store. This can be combatted with a marketing campaign, but product testing often has little money for that. Word might leak out virally like this, but let's face facts. Most people aren't aware of what's being talked about on a few websites. That's what doomed Old Navy, I think. Without promotion, why would a size 24 woman have been in Old Navy to discover their plus-sizes? A few will hear about it online. Some might be shopping for others. But most of their potential customers just won't know about it and nothing can doom a product faster than ignorance in the marketplace. No matter how awesome your offering is, if no one knows about it, so what?

So, while its awesome that Saks will offer clothing in larger sizes, I worry that the intended clientele will never be stepping foot into Saks to discover this. And really, why should they?

So then the question because why these sorts of product launches are so consistently botched in this way. Is it simple incompetence or something more nefarious? I doubt anyone is trying to doom these lines to fail, but I also doubt anyone cares too much if they fail. A craven reluctance to be associated with fat people isn't an unthinkable motive. It may not be why they do it, but its an attitude which may still inform their approach.


Speaking of silly outrage about clothing

I went to tweet about my last post (oh, yeah, I'm trying out Twitter; @red3blog) and realized some sort of brohaha had erupted around Lane Bryant snarking about this t-shirt by definatalie.
@lanebryant: Is this really necessary? We say NO! Share your thoughts! http://ow.ly/2fILH #lanebryant
Seriously? Part of me is most baffled that THAT is the message Lane Bryant considers beyond the pale. I mean, its so ordinary. I'd hardly call that confrontational, yet we are reminded the very low bar some feel to be confronted by fat people not apologizing. Why on Earth is that where Lane Bryant wants to draw the line. Aside from how silly it is for a corporation to be picking fights with a CafePress site, its silly to be doing it over such a simple message. Especially with the scare capitals of NO! I don't want to seem like I'm ragging on the shirt. Its just, I really don't see what Lane Bryant's fuss was all about.

Naturally people took Lane Bryant up on their suggest to share their thoughts. Want to guess how that went?

Really, I find it bizarre that Lane Bryant would pretend to have ANY credibility to talk about what is necessary to promote acceptance of fat people. Like Lesley from Fatshionista, I don't expect Lane Bryant to be fat positive, but that's precisely why I also don't expect to appoint themselves the arbiters of appropriateness in fat positivity. Their track record on such issues is awful. And self-defeating, too.

One of Fat Acceptance's greatest challenges is that an industry exists to make money selling fat shame. Lane Bryant is a company that stands to make money from the opposite, yet they have never really seen that potential. People who have a loving relationship with their body will be more interested in buying clothing than someone who is mired in self-shame. This isn't rocket science. Lane Bryant has spent decades leaving an untold amount of money on the table by not getting this. By being content to being a destination of necessity rather than desire. Its baffling from a financial stand-point and speaks to just how ingrained fat stigmatization is in our culture. Even capitalism can't fight it. Whatever baby-steps they are taking now, their place is hardly to scold people for being ahead of their very curve.

Its like they want us to be naked

Oh noes! Fat students can buy school uniforms! Teh horror!

I think this may qualify as old news, but its too silly of a moral panic not to comment on.

"We want to make sure our schoolwear range is accessible for children of all shapes and sizes.” -Marks and Spencer spokesperson
Won't someone please think of the children? Oh, wait, I guess that IS what they are doing. Thinking about affording fat children the same opportunities to buy stuff as thin children. What should be a boring press release has been mutated into an excuse to fat shame. As if they really needed the excuse.

It should be alarming that an article about something so mundane would be a platform for outrage, but this is what we are up against. Even the most utterly boring victory for fat people is cause for epic hand-wringing. Its not even like this hasn't happened before. I've seen some especially unhinged fat bigots compare plus-size clothing stores with crack houses. No matter how reasonable our demands are, we'll still have some who act like we are murdering kittens with our bare hands.

What on Earth do they think we should do about the clothing needs of fat children? Send them out naked? Wrap them in burlap sacks lest they forget to feel ashamed? Fat stigmatization dominates our culture and society and yet its promotes genuinely feel like we aren't doing nearly enough to make fat people hate themselves. And lets not let the media off the hook, either. BBC News felt this was an appropriate angle to report on without the slightest counterpoint. And no, the retailer doesn't count as a counterpoint.

Fat children should be able to get clothes for school. That should not be a controversial statement. That fat stigmatizers treat it like it is is just a way of trying to control the debate in their favor. So our response must be two-fold.

Fat children should be able to get clothes for school and you're an idiot if you think otherwise. Maybe that's not inclusive, but screw that.


Pre-Accepting of Fat?

So, the other day I happened to note that I had a unique journey to being a fat accepting fat man in that I was fat accepting before I was fat. Some commentators were quick to note I'm maybe not as unique as I thought, so I'm curious to here more from others who believed in fat acceptance before becoming a fat person and applying those principles to their own lives.

For me, my first awareness of Fat Acceptance was as another kind of FA, a Fat Admirer. This is something I was aware of and open about at an earlier age. I'm thankful that at the time I didn't settle for just understanding this as a passive sexuality, but rather I wanted to learn about the experience of fat people. This intellectual curiosity led me time and again to Fat Acceptance and I found it all very persuasive. This is really a whole 'nother post I need to make (or several) but I've long be disappointed with how Fat Admirers weren't really political engaged by Fat Acceptance and how easily many FAs were about to disassociate themselves from the political struggles of the people they were sexually attracted to. I very much saw this as my fight and learned early on that I couldn't think I could just tell a fat woman that I thought she was pretty and have that undo the systematic culture stigmatization fat people endure. I wasn't just looking at this as what I found attractive. I was reading magazine articles on the movement, scouring libraries for books like Shadow on a Tightrope to learn more about the ideology and philosophy of Fat Acceptance.

So, I was, shall we say, more than aware of Fat Acceptance. One of the first things I did in college was join NAAFA (again, whole 'nother post). The second thing I did was gain weight. Not intentionally. It just, well, happened. I don't think I even realized it until I had put on almost 20lbs. I ended up gaining about 40lbs my Freshman year. I was not really happy about this. I think I had a misplaced sense of superiority as a thin fat admirer. Really, I just understood that being thin lended me a privilege of credibility with some I'd lose if I was also fat. I was frustrated with my body and disbelieving. I'd always been thin, after all. Maybe it'd be okay for me to lose weight since I wasn't "supposed" to be fat. Of course, I soon recognized that this was a genetic pattern in my family. The men grow up very thin and gain weight as adults for the most part.

For all my frustration, though, I still knew deep down that hating my body wasn't going to be productive. I felt fat acceptance was right. By then I was taking in all this fantastic online writing by people like Marilyn Wann and members of the Fat Underground. I may have hated by fat body, but I knew that hate wasn't going to be productive. I wanted to do something about that.

The summer after my first year in University, I got sick and lost all of the weight I gained only to put it on and then some the following year. While I internally was happy with the initial loss, I also found myself upset when I was complemented for it. I really tried to be introspective about these feelings. I worked to expand my sexual attraction to fat women to a more general aesthetic appreciation for fat in men and women alike and then tried to transfer that to myself. This didn't happen over night and in some real ways, its still happening but I am deeply grateful for the "head start" I got because I already knew of and genuinely believed in Fat Acceptance.

Please share your own stories in the comments. I'm fascinated at how other people might have had a similar journey or how it might have been different. And others, certainly, please feel free to reflect on these themes even if it doesn't quite describe your path to fat acceptance.

Other posts about my Fat Admirer experience:
Eventually not about Britney Spears
Sexual Aesthetic

"Disruptive trolling is essentially anti-freedom of speech"

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon had a post last week articulating her opposition to censorship and how this fits with banning disruptive trolls from her blog.

Indeed, I would say disruptive trolling is essentially anti-freedom of speech, in that the troll wants to shut down certain conversations that he thinks shouldn’t exist here or anywhere. He’s denying the right of us to run a blog that communicates what we want to communicate. We have a right here to conduct conversations on our grounds, not just hand it over to some guy who has managed to hone his skills at shouting others down and making intelligent discussion impossible.

Emphasis mine.

I simply cannot agree with this more and I think it captures the dynamic seen in Fat Acceptance spaces extremely well. FA spaces should not be afraid to conduct our discussions on our standards, not the standards of anyone who waltzes in and starts throwing a tantrum at us. Concern trolling about "censorship" when its their behavior that is target the expression of people they don't agree with. They are trying to appropriate the platform and audiences others have built and use it to to attack the principles advocated by those communities.

This is what FA has seen time and time again with weight loss supporters and their abuse of fat acceptance communities and its something we should forcfully resist. No one has to agree with any of what we have to say, but that doesn't give them the right to redefine our beliefs to their liking. It doesn't give them the right to drown out our expression. Those kinds of things are forms of intimidation and they are not unique to Fat Acceptance. They are practically cliche. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone abusively disrespect a progressive community all the while patting themselves on the back for their "bravery". There is nothing brave about disruptive trolling, nor is there anything cowardly by showing no toleration for that nonsense.

In the last 14 years I have seen so many fat acceptance communities destroyed by relentless disruptive trolling. Some have come from hardcore trolls who simply hate fat people. Others from concern trolling from dieters who cannot deal with the fact that not everyone supports weight loss dieting. Others still from foolish self-promoters who pick fights to "raise their profile". What they all share is a sense of entitlement and privilege to disrupt us and silence us all why insisting THEY are the victims. We cannot tolerate this. We need to move past it. Fat Acceptance has been unusually vulnerable to concern trolling, but we need to push back.

So, consider this my call to my community to not put up with people who want to shout us down. When they shout, shut them down. If you it is your space, just don't allow it. We could drown in this kind of petty snipping and lame feud baiting and we need to move past their efforts to define us and dictate the rules of debate to us. We don't allow such indulgences. We can't get lost sniping back, but if we cannot remove them we should still stand clear in our refusal to condone the disrespect and disruption. This really is about free speech, but not in the way they'd like us think.


The enemies of the good

I didn't want to seem like I was bagging on withoutscene over at BFB in my last post. The frustration is very much not with the content of the post, but rather those who keep insisting that Fat Acceptance stop to grovel at the feet of those who disagree with us over their imagined slights. Everything withoutscene said in the post was right, and not surprisingly she also made a very good observation in the comment section there which I'd like to quote...

I do think that people encounter people like me and somehow get the impression that I'll look down on them if they have body shame. Like, they find it hard to understand that despite the fact that I celebrate my body and I'm a fat activist, I still struggle. As if I become hard to relate to when I'm not wallowing in body shame or something.

This is actually something I think about a lot. I imagine people look at me and think I am an extremely fat accepting individual. And I am. I had a unique journey to FA in that I was exposed to FA and very strongly believed in before I was fat myself. I very unintentionally found myself in position to be a testing ground for my own adopted ideals. I'm extremely grateful for all this as I think it saved me from a lot of the body shame most people experience in our society. Which is all to say that I, myself, consider myself to be unusually fat accepting sometimes.

I still struggle with body shame every day of my life.

In the past I have seen people justify abandoning fat acceptance because they have those feelings of shame. The truth is all of us do. That is why having a community is so important because we really do need to share our strength. Every last one of us. I don't think I'd be speaking of turn to suggest that ever fat activist you see blogging or organizing is someone who very much needs the community of FA on a personal level. The most gung-ho of us still struggle. What we are talking about is not perfection. We cannot afford to make perfect the enemy of the good. No one in FA will scorn someone for having doubts or for dealing with self-loathing because all of us deal with the same things. What we can do is share our strength in responding to internalized body shame.

The way I've always looked at it is, "Accept that you will feel the shame, but do not accept the shame." We can't fault ourselves for not being perfect, but that's not an excuse to not keep striving for it. We recognize our limitations without letting the limits define us. We choose to be defined instead by what is possible in our lives. The body shame will be there, but it will not defeat us. We may never do away with that nagging doubt, that lingering shame, but what we can do is control what we do about those feelings. We can control what we become because of them. Do we resign ourselves and let the shame win? No. That is what we can do. We meet this challenge and we push on and I believe that this is something we can all do.

So, can you be in fat acceptance and still feel body shame? Absolutely. I'm not sure there is anyone who doesn't at some moment in their lives. What defines you is how you choose to act on that shame. FA is about how we act in the face of the shame. Its not defined by some perfect ideal of living free of shame, but our choice to not let that shame win. In time, things can get better. We can all be on different places on the journey, but so long as we share a destination we are striving for, we have the bonds of community. We are are all moving in that direction, and THAT is what defines us. No one is keeping score on where we are on that journey and in a lot of ways it doesn't matter because the pitfalls and risks we face as individuals are the same as we all face. There is just no meaningful hierarchy for that. Whoever you think is super-fat-accepting is far more like you than you think, but let that say something about YOUR potential rather than their limitations.


Opt out

I started writing a comment at Big Fat Blog that was getting WAY too long for a comment, so its becoming a blog post. BFB has a post up explaining that Fat Activists don't hate dieters. All of it is completely true and I completely feel the same way but the post still kind of frustrates me. Not that BFB made it but that there are those who made it necessary. Its not that I feel any hatred towards dieters, but I do feel some anger over the way Fat Activists constantly have to explain that.

We obviously aren't demonizing dieters. I've never seen any legitimate Fat Acceptance voice do anything that could fairly be even perceived that way, much less characterized as such. That it is an attack that gets made so frequently isn't a reason to question ourselves because its not really about us at all, but rather the limited tolerance others have for Fat Acceptance. Its a way, conscious or otherwise, for others to try to disenfranchise us by making our discussion about THEM rather than US. And frankly, THAT is something for us to actually get upset about.

We should hate that we are constantly made to feel like we need to explain that we don't hate dieters. That we are constantly being pushed to wish them good luck. Its a way of trying to enforce a discussion on their terms and that is something that should bother us. Its about not letting us move forward to make our case. I'm not upset when someone wants to lose weight. Well, not at them personally anyway. It upsets me on a cultural level, but I feel utterly no hatred or anger towards the person who feels what is the natural way to feel for most people in our society. My anger about these issues is towards the larger cultural forces and frankly I have a right to that anger and I have a right to feel like the way fat people are made to feel is an injustice.

I do hate the culture of dieting, but I feel no animosity towards individual dieters. Point of fact, I feel terribly sorry for them. Hearing someone is on a diet doesn't anger me, it saddens me. These people aren't who I am fighting, they are who I am fighting for. There isn't a "who" I am fighting at all, really. Its an attitude the justifies fat hate, internalized or externalized. It is a culture which promotes and endorses fat stigmatization. If there are individuals I am fighting, it would be those who promote and often profit off this status quo. Not the people I perceive to be victimized by it.

And frankly, that should be clear. The only dieters I've ever called out are those who promote it to others. And its not their internalized fat hatred I am troubled by but that they have taken steps to promote and exploit internalized fat hatred in others. The issue we see is that the culture of fat stigmatization encourages people to so completely internalize fat hatred that they see any threat to that attitude as a threat to them personally. While I can I understand that dynamic, I cannot compromise to it because to do so would be to deprive and limit my right to feel differently.

What this is really about is our right to opt out. To opt out of a cultural structure that stigmatizes our bodies and to find a new path to serve of physical and mental well-being. That right is what is threatened when people try to bring diet talk into fat acceptance spaces. Oh, I have seen dieters who like to portray themselves as the victims of big bad fat acceptance, but nothing could be further from the truth and that is why I don't think we can respond to such distortions with platitudes and protestations. We need to call it out as an attack on OUR autonomy. Their autonomy is not remotely imperiled by someone finding their own space to express their own views and find support for their choices. We shouldn't have to even explain that. This is OUR space. OUR community.

Maybe there will be a day when the power of fat acceptance threatens the autonomy of those who disagree with us, but that day is absurdly far off that even entertaining the notion of it is farcical. The truth is, I don't go to diet support sites to tell them they are wrong. I'm not aware of anyone in FA who does that. I don't post scolding lectures on the walls of dieting Facebook friends. In spite of what you see on TV, fat activists don't protest weight loss meetings. We do nothing that would make it fair for people to accuse us of hating dieters. But the people who often make those charges ARE the people acting that way. They are disrespecting us by trying to destroy our spaces, our communities by insisting we offer them "inclusion" to disagree with us and demean us. We show our respect for their autonomy, but there are many who won't show us that same respect who want to silence us.

I don't wish dieters ill. I don't hope their diets go poorly. I also won't hope they go well or wish them good luck. What I want is the right to wish them nothing. I cannot in good conscious wish someone well doing something I feel is a horrible mistake. Our options aren't limited to two, however. Its not wish them ill or well. We can simply opt out. I do not condemn individual dieters and I should have the right to also not congratulate them.

When someone hates their body, wants to lose weight, stigmatizes their fat, I feel sympathy and frankly some sorrow. I don't feel hate and anyone who perceives that is just making that up in their head and I can't be held to that. I don't hate them for those feelings. I'm not angry at them. But for my own conscious and well-being, I cannot feel happy about those feelings either. I can accept that people will feel differently. I can tolerate that difference of opinion. Obviously I'm already doing that. But that doesn't mean I have to like that opinion. Agreeing to disagree means still disagreeing. It means respecting that disagreement. Nothing FA does shows disrespect to those we disagree with. For some on the other side, that's just not the case. They shouldn't set the terms and limits of our own discussion, though. I have utterly no desire to hate a dieter, but I also have no desire to wish them all the best with their internalized fat stigmatization. That is NOT too much for us to ask for.

Fat Man Wearing White

So, this is going to be a bit of fatshionista post from a fat male perspective. I doubt most people who know me realize how much attention I give to clothes. I actually spend a lot of time trying to look good, though because my style is generally casual and I lack some basic styling skills/instincts, it probably doesn't come off as much. One thing I do know how to wear, though, is a suit jacket. I absolutely love how I look in a jacket and have recently decided to start dabbling in sports jackets.

One look I've been dying to try for years is an all white style with white slacks paired with a white sports jacket. I've always thought the look was very cool but its been tough to find white slacks in my size. I recently got some from The Gap, though, and have paired it with a new white sports coat from Men's Wearhouse. This past weekend I wore the ensemble with an orange linen shirt to a cocktail party before a wedding and I'd like to think I pulled it off.

The sleeves are still too long as I didn't have time to get it tailored and it was close enough to wear. The pics are all taken with a timer, so they aren't the best, but I thought they were worth sharing.

Wearing white like this definitely made me feel very on display. I wonder if the reason fat people aren't supposed to wear white is less that its "not slimming" and more because it just stands out and fat people aren't supposed to do that. Black, thus, is slimming more for letting us blend in than for its actual properties which I always felt overstated. I took some pictures of me in a dark suit that I wore for the actual wedding and I feel like I look much bigger in it than wearing white.

But for all of the apprehension I was feeling, I got over it quickly. I was noticed, but at least the comments were good. At a wedding a week earlier I also ventured to wear the white ensemble (albeit with a blue shirt/tie combo that frankly looked WAY better, I just didn't get many pictures), my wife and I were referenced as "that fashionable couple" by a friend of the bride's and frankly we were. Perhaps my wife more than I, but I still regarded the experiment in white as a success.

So, fat people can look white and look kick ass doing so. Now I'm all set to cos-play as a fat Gideon Graves from Scott Pilgrim. But fat cosplay is a WHOLE 'nother topic I'm entirely ill equipped to cover.


Resurrecting the dead (blog post)

So, I went back and completed my draft that I referenced in yesterday's post about the New York Times' silly reference to feederist blogs being an offshoot of fat acceptance. Not sure my initial instincts weren't right, but if you want to read an even rantier rant ranted about in an already ranty rant, head back and check it out.