Earlier this month, sportswear behemoth Nike released a women's plus-size clothing range. They launched it with a campaign featuring Rubenesque women in the semi-seductive poses typically struck by slimsters advertising regular workout gear; poses no-one goes into while actually working out, of course.
The promotional statement included phrases such as: 'Women are stronger, bolder and more outspoken than ever' (hmm ... not sure, those early 20th century suffragettes were pretty strong, bold and outspoken), 'The days where we have to add "female" before "athlete" are over' (yay! although everyone's still doing it, like the AFL Women's League), and 'We celebrate these athletes' diversity, from ethnicity to body shape'.
It was this last sentence boiled the blood of the comment goblins. Howls of derision bounced from screen to screen. 'Does Nike make mumu shower curtains?' 'Sizes above a 20 ... shouldn't be encouraged.' 'I guess if competitive eating is a sport.' 'Brands shouldn't be supporting rising obesity levels ESPECIALLY an athletic sports brand.' 'Fat acceptance is Death acceptance, so I will continue to #BoycottNike.'
This last twit got two boycotts for the price of one, also objecting to Nike's new sports hijab. Seems neither fat people nor Muslim women should be allowed to sweat in fancy gear.
Sports clothing for larger women, while difficult to find in high street shops, is hardly innovative. These days, one can easily log on and order a pair of suitably baggy tracky-dacks and, to be fair, a body does not technically need branded lycra in order to exercise. So why the hullabaloo?
Elite athletes wear Nike. Celebrities wear Nike. Beautiful people wear Nike. People who take their sports seriously wear Nike.
Well, that's what decades of advertising around the little swooshy tick and 'Just Do It' trademark tells us. Fat girls don't deserve to wear Nike because they are supposed to feel ashamed of their ample girths. They should exercise, of course, but in sackcloth and ashes, with downcast faces, signalling they understand their moral depravity.
The great sin of the Nike plus-size women is that they look like they enjoy exercising and that afterwards, they might even enjoy other more sensual activities.
"No-one wants to see a fat person exercise, especially if they are wearing tight-fitting leggings and crop-tops. God forbid a tubby muffin-top blinds other gym-junkies. Fat invokes disgust."
The stigma around that most loathsome of bodily attributes, fat, is such that weight and obesity aren't just health issues, they are evidence of weak-willed gluttony. Forget the roles that genetics and an obesogenic environment play in conspiring to make sustained weight loss that most Sisyphean task. No-one wants to see a fat person exercise, especially if they are wearing tight-fitting leggings and crop-tops. God forbid a tubby muffin-top blinds other gym-junkies. Fat invokes disgust.
Except that Nike have decided they don't mind gambling their carefully crafted image on capturing the hidden market of plus-size consumers, a dollar iceberg with merely its tip visible on the surface. Brands and stores have long claimed they don't make and stock larger sizes because there is no demand. Tosh! When Nike's plus size range launched, along with the fat-shamers, there were plenty clapping their hands in excitement, keen to fork out hard-earned cash for a 38E bra.
Imagine the purchasing power of women long denied the pleasure of walking into any clothing store they like, eyeing a manikin's pleasing outfit, sifting through a rack to find the correct size, trying it on and being complimented by the salesperson eager to help. However uncomfortable it makes some people to have their fat stereotypes challenged, Nike's gamble might just well pay dividends.
Dr Rachel Woodlock is an expat Australian academic and writer living in Ireland.
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23 March 2017
Nike, just do it. You might cut out the line about how women are stronger than ever before, etc, because that's a nonsense - but stick by your principles. You're there to make money, and fat people are a neglected market. Giving them a bit of the respect they need and deserve will pay other dividends, too, of course.
24 March 2017
I walk and I swim. The ayes have it! Seriously, I wear very comfortable and well-worn clothes when I walk and a one-piece swimsuit when swimming. I take care in choosing my googles, safety first for my eyes. Exercise should be fun and not a slog. And there are all sorts of shapes and sizes in the change room at the swimming pool, we all have a laugh and say g'day.
25 March 2017
Why anyone wears sweaty, non-breathable lycra to exercise in is a mystery to me. And buying gear made by a company once known for appalling working conditions and wages in third world countries is even more mysterious. This only changed after years of international outrage and activism. It nauseates me when a company uses social 'enlightenment' about fat women to make even more obscene profits. I'll continue to exercise my ample hips in my medium-price Aussie cottons.