An inclusivity initiative that was intended to serve as a comment on the cyber-bullying phenomenon ended up sparking online outrage when viewers discovered images of a thin model wearing a sweatshirt bearing what appeared to be a fat-shaming message.
The article of clothing in question, which was designed by Los Angeles-based label LPA and sold by high-end online retailer Revolve, was made in collaboration with prominent women, such as Lena Dunham, Cara Delevingne, Emily Ratajkowski, Suki Waterhouse and Paloma Elsesser, who’ve each been the victim of online verbal abuse.
The sweatshirts featured quotes from actual messages these women have received from Internet trolls, and were meant as a reclamation of hurtful words often used against women and to create a community for those affected by cyber-bullying, with proceeds benefitting a women’s charity.
According to LPA, the brand had planned to launch the sweaters on its own website, with each of the five prominent women modeling them in a selfie, but due to a lack of communication and oversight, the collection’s first impression ended up embodying everything but body positivity.
Released a day early, the collection featured a sweatshirt adorned with the quote, “Being fat is not beautiful, it’s an excuse,” modeled on a slender Caucasian woman, without considering the subconscious message that may have sent.
Many were quick to point out that physical differences are what gets you punished on the Internet, and a lack of diversity in representation is a huge contributing factor. Moving further away from their intended message, the item was offered only in sizes XXS-XL, excluding the very people this garment was meant to empower.
What the image further failed to highlight was that below that harsh quote, in a barely legible font size, was the name of the body-positive influencer, Paloma Elsesser, reclaiming its toxic words.
A picture is worth 1,000 words, but on its own, without any context or backstory, the image seemed to overtly promote fat-phobia and eating disorders. The collection has since been removed from Revolve’s website and many celebrities that contributed to it have renounced their support. Revolve then donated $20,000 to Girls Write Now, a program that promotes mentorship through writing for underserved women.
It’s important to remember that when launching a campaign, you should always be careful about what you say and who says it. No matter how good your intent, without a properly developed message you’re susceptible to misinterpretation. Ultimately, if your words require a long-winded explanation so as to avoid appearing offensive, perhaps they would be better rephrased.
Paris Kissel is an account executive at LEVICK.