Students on sizeism

Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, lit fires in plus-sized womens’ communities when he stated that his company’s clothing wasn’t made for plus-sized women. In 2006, he was quoted by Salon: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.” He added that Abercrombie & Fitch appeals to the popular kids more than anybody else.

His comments were only addressed when blogger Jes Baker’s letter to him went viral. She posted photos of herself with a male model wearing Abercrombie’s clothes, and a final photo showed her flipping off Jeffries, who she hoped was reading along.

“The only thing you’ve done through your comments […] is reinforce the unoriginal concept that fat women are social failures, valueless, and undesirable,” she wrote. “Your apology doesn’t change this.”

Baker’s letter inspired others to rise up against “sizeism”, discrimination for being too skinny or too fat, as commonly judged in our society. After hearing Jeffries’ comment, Danielle Elson, a fourth-year anthropology major at UTM, said, “People are missing the bigger issue. Jeffries went out of his way to make codes for certain people. It’s not okay; it’s bullying.”

But not all anti-sizeism activists aren’t promoting a positive message. Perhaps out of good intentions, many people have hopped on the activist bandwagon to stand up for the overweight. Many activists have misunderstood anti-sizeism sentiments and attacked the opposite extreme; rather than stressing that everyone should be comfortable in their skin, skinny teens and young adults are being shamed for being thin. But just as trying to be thin has health implications, trying to avoid it can lead to poor eating habits and a lack of exercise.

Some UTM students feel that other issues deserve more attention. “Being a size zero is an extreme. Being a size 16 is an extreme. There needs to be a middle ground,” says Dragana Kovacevic, a fourth-year English student. “We can’t focus on aesthetics; we need to focus on the health issues associated with obesity.”

In last year’s Maclean’s On Campus, Vivien Chang wrote, “‘Sizeism’ is hardly the new Civil Rights Movement. Are bigger people kept from the polls as women and African Americans were? Is it illegal for fatter people to marry? Last time I checked, no. Being overweight doesn’t mean one can’t have a successful career. Just look at Girls creator Lena Dunham, actress Melissa McCarthy, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.”

On a personal level, I understand how important it is to have a positive body image, no matter what your weight is. In 2010, I tipped the scale at 200 pounds; for someone five feet five inches tall, that’s about 50 pounds overweight. According to a basic BMI calculator, I was obese. In 2013, I weighed 130 pounds, which falls within the normal weight category. After losing weight, I noticed my health improved, my grades rose, and my overall quality of life increased, though anti-sizeism activists might accuse me of simply conforming to the Western media’s aesthetic values.

We can’t tolerate bullying of the obese. However, we must also be careful not to turn acceptance of unhealthy lifestyles into praise for them. I suggest a compromise. Let’s encourage healthy living while remaining tolerant of each person’s right to look how they choose, and become a healthier generation.

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