Why the Lilly Pulitzer body-shaming controversy is more complicated than it seems
Earlier today, New York Magazine‘s The Cut featured a photo tour of Lilly Pulitzer’s headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. For the most part, the offices were exactly what you’d expect: Bright and colorful, filled with florals, and impeccably chic. They even had “freeze-dried palm trees” and served French macarons in the cafeteria. But one image from the slideshow has sparked some major backlash for the brand, prompting many to question whether Lilly Pulitzer fosters a fat-shaming culture in their offices.
In the picture, two illustrations are pinned to a mood board near a swimsuit top, some magazine cut-outs, and a card that says, “I’m just saying.” One is a drawing of a woman next to the text, “Just another day of fat, white, and hideous. . . You should probably just kill yourself.” The other is a drawing of a woman in a bikini, next to the text, “Put it down, carb face.” These images are heartbreaking, to say the least, and many took to Twitter to express their disapproval and outrage.
The original article provided little context for the drawings (The Cut has since added the caption, “This image shows the personal illustrations of an employee not pictured in this story.”) — but allegedly, they were in an employee’s cubicle, not on a communal fridge or in an otherwise public area.
“These illustrations were the work of one individual and were posted in her personal work area,” a representative told Bloomberg. “While we are an employer that does encourage people to decorate their own space, we are a female-dominated company and these images do not reflect our values. We apologize for any harm this may have caused.”
The story is definitely much more complicated than it might seem, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, especially given that we know little to nothing about why the employee drew the illustrations, or for whom. But from what we do know, it seems like these drawings weren’t just fat-shaming — they were also self-shaming. And seeing something so incredibly intimate and harmful so prominently displayed in what was, otherwise, a pretty light-hearted office tour, is really heartbreaking.
We don’t know the intentions of the artist who drew them, and we can’t begin to consider what motivated such disturbing content. But the drawings suggest—without any context, mind you—the possibility of a problematic relationship with one’s body image and self-worth. If nothing else, it’s worth considering that these images belong to an individual and that individual might not realize how harmful this kind of thinking can be to others or oneself. Which is why concern comes to mind before outrage.
For all the incredible, body positive initiatives that have happened in recent years (and there have been many!), it’s obvious that the pressure to be thin and to ascribe to a very narrow definition of beauty is as alive as ever. Thinspiration (aka thinspo) may feel extra distressing when it’s linked to a major retailer, but it’s devastating when it’s self-pointed by an individual who might have complicated food and body issues. No one should ever feel worthless or lesser than because of how they look. Whether in jest or not, saying you should “kill yourself” for how you look is a very serious and very concerning statement.
According to Do Something, 70% of girls believe they aren’t good enough in some way, and young girls’ self-esteem is more closely related to how we view ourselves than how we look or how much we actually weigh. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91% of college women will attempt to control their weight by dieting. While it’s easy to brush aside these drawings as harmless or meaningless, in some ways, they’re the direct result of a culture that allows us to feel this way about our bodies and ourselves.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work out and be healthy, nor is there anything wrong with taking pride in it — but the message behind these drawings isn’t a positive one, and certainly not one of pride. It felt odd that the photo would be included in the article and then not acknowledged, as well. As The Huffington Post points out, “regardless of where the drawings came from or whether or not they are meant to be a joke, the fact that these fat-shaming images are not only on display, but highlighted in the article is disconcerting, to say the least.”
And it’s no secret that Lilly Pulitzer has a complicated history with size inclusivity. Just a couple months ago, the brand came under fire for their collaboration with Target, when it was announced that all plus-size options would only be available online. (The collection sold out anyway, which just goes to show how much of a demand there is for affordable, cute clothes in a variety of sizes.) Promoting and contributing to diverse representation has never been as essential, and according to The Cut article, even Lilly Pulitzer herself “was ultra-inclusive.” Hopefully, this situation helps bring attention to just how important that inclusivity is, and her namesake can help foster an open-minded, positive community for all women moving forward — both as a work environment, and as a lifestyle brand.
(Images via NY Mag.)