For those who wish to undermine someone’s confidence, body shaming serves as an undeniably insidious strategy. By playing off people’s physical insecurities, it’s easy to make them feel weak or inadequate. People use this tactic on one another all the time, but now, clothing companies have also begun to integrate their own subtle sort of shaming for both women and young girls.
As a relatively small individual, I often browse the children’s section in Old Navy. (Their styles are more diverse, oddly enough, and the prices are lower, so why not?) Except, when I was younger, the girls department went up to size 14-16, which was considered XL. Now, the selection stops at size 14—today’s XL—while girls who seek anything larger are forced to shop online, as size 16, also referred to as XXL, can only be found on the brand’s website. Returned items on the regular racks offer a glimpse into the extensive selection that’s actually available.
Yet, while this gimmick might merely be some marketing ploy to force children and parents to shop the adult section, it sends an awful message to growing girls who are not yet ready to make this transition. They must spend extra money on adult styles, or resort to online shopping, essentially ostracizing them from their age group. Excluding these sensitive girls and young women from the in-store experience implies that their bodies aren’t acceptable—that they don’t belong—during an already rocky time filled with physical and emotional changes.
Aerie’s tactics are somewhat similar when it comes to bras. While the American Eagle offshoot wants customers to believe “the real you is sexy” because of the decision to stop Photoshopping its models and its willingness to feature diverse body types, Aerie fails to mention that the slogan only applies to those who wear the sizes available in-store.
Shoppers who come in looking for bras in size DD or larger can try on the sample (that’s likely been tried on by countless other women), but they must complete their purchase via the brand’s online shop because they don’t actually stock said sizes on the premises. A sales associate can process the order in-store, thereby eliminating shipping costs, but you still can’t leave with your purchase in hand because “the real you” isn’t sexy enough to carry one of Aerie’s bags—bags which feature that very phrase—throughout the mall, or so it would seem.
Size discrimination isn’t overt, but it is pervasive. Yet, while these subtle jabs strip adult women of their self-esteem, they’re far more detrimental to young girls in the long term, as the desire to fit into smaller, more socially accepted sizes could lead to an eating disorder down the road. People come in all shapes and sizes, and each should be celebrated, for people shouldn’t be defined by their body, but by their character instead.
Companies can do better. We can do better.
While I can only speak from the female perspective, I’m sure men and boys also face their fair share of body image issues. Though not often publicized, both genders suffer from body shaming. Have you experienced any such size discrimination? Share your story in the comments below! Because we can’t right society’s wrong unless we voice the concerns we’ve been holding inside all along.
(This post originally appeared on Storia.)