Dear Walmart: Here’s why you shouldn’t have used the ‘F’ word

Walmart, Walmart, Walmart. Is it a good thing that you are offering Halloween costumes in plus-sizes this year? Yes, of course it’s a good thing, thank you for being so inclusive. But here’s the problem, you go and undo all the good work of this action by labeling your plus-size Halloween gear “Fat Girl Costumes.”

So a lot of people who were rightfully hurt and upset took to Twitter to give the superstore a schooling. It is a truth universally acknowledged in the 21st Century, that Twitter serves as a slingshot for ordinary Davids to overturn the ignorant-minded shenanigans of corporate Goliaths like Walmart.

The more people tweeted, the more Walmart listened. So whereas Walmart’s initial response looked like this:

Within a few hours, the company had deleted the “Fat Girl Costume” heading from the website, and responses on Twitter started looking more like this:

I’m all for apologies that feel genuine (even if you’ve got a 140 character limit, you can still squeeze some sincerity into a Twitter apology) but in order to make sure this mistake isn’t repeated, we need to give whoever was behind the decision-making process a crash course in why the word “fat” is so complicated and why we need to be crazy-careful in how we use this word.

“Fat” is a trigger word. It’s a word that is often used as an insult, making people feel terrible about themselves. It is a word that can be used as a weapon to make women, especially plus-size women, feel judged, dismissed, and straight-up devalued. In recent years the plus-size community has struck back, and members have reclaimed the word, leading to empowering movements like “fat fashion” and “the fatkini.”

But just because a word has been reclaimed doesn’t mean there’s now a free-for-all on that word. That’s especially the case if you’re a super-mega retailer with no body-positive mission statement to speak of. Any word that’s so offensive to so many people has no place in the mass-marketed, tone-deaf world of retail superstores. ‘Fat’ is a word that still has too much power to hurt.

As Liz Black, a plus-size woman who is herself completely comfortable with the word, wrote in her Refinery29 piece “The Other F Word,” the term is not to be taken lightly, even in the context of products designed to empower women.

I honestly was not expecting the level of ire that came with using the term “Fatkini”….With comments running the gamut from, “That is the most horrible thing you could have said,” to, “My fat ass will look fabulous in one of those bikinis,” it was clear that “fat” can bring up some heavy feelings. 

So when we know a word is as complicated as “the other ‘F’ word” is, when we know it has the power to hurt as many people as that word does, then careful really has to be the watchword. This is a word that is still in flux. Until it is fully reclaimed, until it has lost its power to cut as deep as it can cut, it is still a word that functions as a weapon. And we have to be hypersensitive, hyper-aware, and hyper-careful with those kinds of words.

As for you, Walmart, it’s best you steer clear of the word altogether.

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