You probably already know this, but diet culture is out of control. We are constantly being bombarded with images and messaging that tell us to eat better, look better, be smaller, take up less space. A small body is equated with a healthy one in our society, and not only could that idea be further from the truth, but it also has harmful consequences.
In 2019, we know this... intellectually. The body positive movement has done so much for people in terms of making it clear that no one should be ashamed of their bodies. And yet, these "ideals" persist in harmful ways. Macy's recently came under fire for selling a line of fat-shaming plates that were decorated with larger and larger circles labeled "skinny jeans," "favorite jeans," and "mom jeans." "Foodie" and "food coma."
And now, Forever 21 is rightly in trouble for sending Atkins diet bars in its plus-size packages. What could they have possibly been thinking?
Women (it's always women) began tweeting out that their plus-size clothing orders from Forever 21 were arriving with a "complimentary" Atkins diet bar included. Two questions: Was Forever 21 not so subtly trying to tell them to lose weight? And How dare they?
Atkins, of course, was a popular fad diet in the early 2000s. The brand now sells things like lemon bars that promise they taste like a treat but don't include any of that icky stuff that people who are trying to lose weight shouldn't consume. The fact that Forever 21 included these bars in people's orders mean they're assuming they are trying to lose weight, and that's a dangerous stance to take.
Not to mention, it's been pretty handily proven at this point that fad diets don't work. Diet culture is so incredibly toxic and unhealthy for people of all sizes. All it does it perpetuate old ideals and make people feel self-conscious in their own skin. This was an extremely misguided move on the store's part to include these bars in their packages for plus-size women.
Eventually, it became clear that Forever 21 included these bars in all packages, not just plus-size orders, but that doesn't make it any better. You never know someone's relationship with their own body no matter their size, and it's absolutely dangerous for a clothing brand to potentially trigger people who have eating disorders with a body-shaming "free gift" like this.
People of all sizes often feel bad about their bodies exacfly because of things like what Forever 21 did here. A brand that caters to young, impressionable people should know better.
Jezebel explains that "research has linked thinness-promoting advertising — which is essentially what an unsolicited sample diet bar is — to body dissatisfaction." Uh, yeah. And they go on to reiterate that low-carb, low-fat diets like Atkins are not only ineffective, but also increase risk for cancer, stroke and heart disease, especially among women.
Women in particular live in a world where their bodies are constantly gazed at and judged. And the psychological toll that sort of existence can have is major. We have had enough, and we're not going to let companies like Forever 21 get away with potentially harmful decisions like the one to send a diet bar along with their clothing orders. It's so absurdly, obviously wrong on so many levels that I kind of can't believe they did it.
Body positive Instagram influencer @mermaidqueenjude posted "Forever 21 is fat phobic" to Instagram. "I'm tired of diet culture and fatphobia, I'm tired of people thinking this is okay. I'm tired. It is so dangerous to body shame and suggest that someone eat less or go on a diet, and you don't know their history with food. As someone recovering from an ED, this would've set me back so far... How dare you endanger your customers like that?"
Forever 21 finally released a statement about their actions: "From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way."
Diet culture needs to end. Brands need to think about what they're doing before they do it. Atkins needs to take their lemon bars and stick them you-know-where. Until every single person is allowed to live unselfconsciously in their own skin, without fear of judgment or even being stared at for slightly longer than usual, we cannot get lazy about this. The suggestion to diet is so much more harmful than Forever 21 ever acknowledged when they decided to send these bars out.