An American department store wanted to sell a range of products that depicted portion control with derogatory jokes. But the controversy isn’t just about a tone-deaf product, it’s about how insidious messages about fat-shaming are.
At this point, every woman in the world needs whatever the Jameela Jamil equivalent of the Bat Signal is.
You know what we’re talking about, right? The actor has become such a fearless advocate for body positivity, fighting battle after battle in the trenches of Twitter, that purely for time-saving purposes it would be really helpful if collective womankind could have a direct phoneline to Jamil so that she could be alerted whenever we need her help.
Take, for example, the news that American department store Macy’s is retailing a line of plates and cups called Pourtions, which feature portion control markers branded onto them. These markers are accompanied by what someone obviously thought were jokey, tongue-in-cheek descriptors. One plate features a big circle, mapped out with the words “mom jeans”, then a smaller circle called “favourite jeans” and then a tiny, Thumbelina-sized circle called “skinny jeans”. On a wine glass two levels are noted: “On the hips” and “On the lips”.
Jamil was first alerted to the products through a post from podcaster Alie Ward, who tweeted out an image of the plates with the caption “How can I get these plates from Macys banned in all 50 states”. Jamil joined Ward in her sentiments, sharing her original post with some added fury: “Fuck these plates. Fuck these plates to hell”.
Macy’s responded that they were pulling the range, which also includes a plate where the portion control is charmingly branded “feed bag” and “feed me”, from stores effective immediately. They also apologised for the messaging of the products. “I’m always in search of progress not perfection,” Jamil responded. “Our society is having to unlearn all of this hyper-normalised anti-fatness. It’s so vital that those of us with the biggest platforms do our part in destabilising it, because it’s hateful.”
So that’s that, then. Mission accomplished. The offensive plates are no longer, and so is their message. Right?
Would that it were so simple. The thing about the portion control plates is that they are only a tiny, skinny-jeans portion-sized piece of a much bigger problem. These plates, along with skinny teas and mindful eating and parts of the sprawling wellness industry, are just one cog in the enormous and insurmountable machine that is weight loss.
Still, no matter how many times Jamil calls out a brand for its damaging message, and no matter how many times we see a body-positive brand pass through our feed, many women still feel the oppressive need to be thinner.
All this, even when the last few years have seen a greater show of acceptance and diversity and positivity than ever before in the media. This is an era in which fat women are on our televisions and in our movies and on the front of our magazine covers and on our bookshelves and dancing on the mainstage of our music festivals. We live in Lizzo’s world, the one in which she told us: “I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision that has to be made for survival… Loving myself was the result of answering two things: Do you want to live? ‘Cause this is who you’re gonna be for the rest of your life. Or are you gonna just have a life of emptiness, self-hatred and self-loathing? And I chose to live, so I had to accept myself.”
We live in that world, yes. But we also live in the other world: the one that tells us to curb our appetites. To make ourselves smaller. To lose weight because we want to have a better body. Because a fat body is a shameful, negative thing.
That’s what those stupid portion-control plates represent – the insidious way that fatphobia has infiltrated everything. It’s infiltrated our kitchen cabinets and our glasses of wine and our Friday night catch ups with friends. It’s there, staring back at us from the shelves of a national department store. It’s so much a part of our consciousness that that department store could allow this range of fatphobic plates to pass through what I can only assume was several rounds of vetting before they ended up, resplendent and appalling, on the shop floor.
The truth of the matter, as writer Daisy Buchanan so eloquently put it, is that “a smaller body is not a better body. It is just a body”. Like any other kind of body.
This doesn’t mean that women will never lose weight, or will never want to lose weight, or will never think about wanting to lose weight (or will never think about thinking about wanting to lose weight). But it’s crucial that we understand how much shame is a driving factor in this thought process, and it’s even more crucial that we learn to make choices and to accept ourselves without that shame.
But there’s no way in hell that we’ll be able to do that while we’re eating off plates with the words “mom jeans” and “skinny jeans” branded across them. Like a warning.
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.