Social and traditional media has been abuzz for the past day or two as Walmart got lambasted for listing larger-sized female Halloween costumes under the label “Fat Girl Costumes.” When Jezebel “exposed” the story, Twitter lit up with comments slamming the retail giant for their apparent insensitivity and shameful decision-making.
“Fat Girl Costumes”? Really, @Walmart? Who thought that would be an appropriate title for a public sales page? Come on.
— kristen garris (@kristengarris) October 27, 2014
I’m going to admit something, and I’m expecting, based on the backlash I’ve seen against Walmart, that this may not go over particularly well. But when I first saw the news story on CNN (right after an Ebola update and before an ISIS segment…), my first thought was, “Wow, Walmart’s more progressive than I thought.”
I’ve asked readers here before what they thought of the word “fat” and the responses were varied and enlightening. Still, at that point, the majority of readers felt that the word was not particularly helpful or appropriate.
Meanwhile, a movement continues to grow in which the idea and reality of fatness is embraced. That includes not just accepting size diversity, but accepting — and honoring — the word “fat.” The idea is that, much like other traditionally stigmatizing words, there’s an opportunity to reclaim the word and thus diminish the negativity and critical power associated with it. Personally, I love the idea of beating the haters at their own game. If I call myself fat — and not in a self-deprecating way, but in descriptive, neutral way — than I’ve taken away your power to insult and harm me with that word. Try again, jerk.
That said, it might be hard for some of us to imagine using the word fat for ourselves or someone else in a neutral way. That’s because so many other words have become embedded with the word fat deep in our brains — words like: lazy, self-indulgent, bad, wrong… It’s important to note the should-be obvious here, which is that none of those things are naturally or inherently tied to the idea of fatness, but our cultural and linguistic traditions are pretty powerful.
So I get the fact that some hear the word “fat” and immediately get defensive. That’s not because there is something inherently wrong with the word; it’s because in their minds they immediately hear all the other words associated with it and feel that Walmart is hurting its customers. If Walmart had said “Selfish, Ugly, Lazy Girl Costumes,” I’d support us being up in arms. But they didn’t. They just said a three letter word that could be argued to neutrally describe a portion of their consumer base.
Now, it’s equally important to consider that words don’t exist in a vacuum. Was Walmart supporting the fat-acceptance movement and promoting a progressive wave of feminism with it’s webpage? I’m not naive enough to totally buy that. But I also can’t say what the intention of the site was. The fact that they’ve now apologized profusely and pulled down the page seems to indicate that they are not exactly trying to make a political statement (or at least not one they were prepared to defend).
Alright, lay it on me… What do you think of Walmart’s “Fat Girl Costumes” page? What do you think of the word “fat”?
p.s. I actually feel a little more offended by the term “girl” in that phrase… You don’t see Walmart referring to adult men as “boys.” But that’s for another day…