It Carries Weight: Plus-Size Invisibility in Health and Fitness Advertising
Updated: Feb 19
Fat-shaming, mention of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, implied weight loss, ‘fat’ as a descriptive (for emphasis and rhetoric, not to fat-shame).
Implied dieting and diet culture.
I want to make it clear that this isn’t about addressing ‘fat-shaming’ by ‘thin-shaming’ in return; it is not to degrade or belittle those that aren’t plus-size yet still struggle with body confidence, eating disorders, weight loss or weight gain. That is a separate topic that deserves its own time to explore with nuances and perspectives that I simply cannot provide. This piece will explore my opinions on plus-size visibility in health and fitness marketing; it is from the perspective of a plus-sized woman that has not experienced mentally harmful thoughts primarily centred around my weight, nor body dysmorphia. I don’t plan on writing an opinion on something I am not able to provide insight about. With that being said, I’m going to complain (again).
Fitting into the aesthetic
Have you ever applied to a retail job where you are required to wear their “high quality” clothes, but they don’t carry your size? During my ongoing hunt for employment, I applied for jobs at H&M even though I knew that even the simplest of items from the store, such as a vest top, would be a snugger fit than I would prefer ("Ribbed Vest Top - White - Ladies | H&M GB").
On the H&M section of Indeed, one person stated in a forum response that when it comes to H&M dress code, “H&M loves when you wear their clothes too because it represents the brand and I've gotten compliments from customers on my clothes and could tell them it's from the same store!” ("What's The Dress Code For Workers Like? | H&M | Indeed.com").
This forum response implies that even if you may not be penalised for not wearing clothes from the brand you work for, you benefit from illustrating the style and ‘wearability’ of their tops, jeans and shoes. But what if ‘wearability’ isn’t an option for you because sizes are too small? H&M’s vest tops go upwards to XL, which is technically a snug fit for me, but if I wanted to exhale or move, then I would be scuppered for choice on larger sizes. Not only that, but any body sizes that are above 2XL have no chance of finding a comfortable fit – so, if you are asked to be interviewed at a high-street retail store, you need to be sure that the store is literally the right fit for you. Why does job qualification and skill have to be compromised by a limited ‘work uniform’ size?
When I walked into an H&M store for the first time, I should have known that none of their items would fit me comfortably. But then again, I don’t think I have ever truly seen someone with my figure, width and shape in their window advertisements.
The first point of contact potential customers may have with retail stores are their window displays and any model photography. However, if plus-size bodies aren’t visible at all in product photos, then it's not feasible for big bodies to buy into the ‘desirable’ aesthetic that these brands want us to ‘achieve’ in the first place. If brands market to customers the idea that achieving a desired ‘goal’ has a recommended retail price, then they should be prepared to market to these target audiences properly. If any advertising or marketing campaign is targeting a specific audience to do something about the wellbeing of their body, then at least make the bodies you are targeting visible.
What’s my problem?
There is no question that body positivity or body neutrality is more commonly visible in advertising and marketing campaigns, such as SAVAGE X Fenty and the various body types that are hired to model the clothing (instagram.com/p/CPFXRq-rtSz/). My main frustration revolves around any product or service that aims to ‘solve the problem’ of obesity with health and fitness, or promotes weight loss...but chooses not to make ‘the problem’ actually visible. Why tell me to eat healthier supermarket food and lose weight when all the ‘thinny people’ pus