As a plus-size woman, I found Nike’s decision to include a plus-size mannequin in a London store display to be great news. Mannequins showing what clothes would look like on my own body is a rarity, and I’m highly appreciative when brands choose to include different body types in their displays. So, of course, the controversy surrounding that plus-size Nike mannequin has me feeling some type of way, friends. When an article was released in The Telegraph that ultimately shamed Nike for including this mannequin in their display, it felt like the battle for both body positivity and inclusivity had come to an abrupt halt.
The Telegraph article about the matter has sparked heated backlash, among celebrities and internet commenters, alike—and I, of course, have my own opinions, too. Tanya Gold, the author of the aforementioned article, isn’t, from what I can tell, coming from a place of conscious hate with her argument. She expresses concern over the idea of a fitness-centric company promoting “unhealthy” body ideals of any kind; she doesn’t want to see Nike promote or otherwise idealize a body type she deems “pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.” I don’t know Gold, nor do I purport to know anything about the demons she has and hasn’t grappled with in her time as a “recovering [obesity] addict,” but I couldn’t help but recognize some of her harshest words as familiar—remnants of internalized fatphobic thoughts even I, myself, have had to dispel in darker times.
Still, I can’t understand what is so damn awful about offering workout clothes in plus sizes—and giving plus-size shoppers the chance to see what those clothes would look like on them.
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I thought I'd go and visit the babe responsible for thousands of fatphobes on the internet losing their shit this week. Apparently a fitness brand using mannequins above a UK size 8 is the most outrageously offensive thing that's ever happened! Or to quote some of the comments I've seen - "dangerous", "disgusting", and "promoting death". Imagine my surprise when I entered @nikelondon and the mannequin did not, in fact, try to kill me! We actually got along great and fully rocked this impromptu photoshoot. • And do you know what I noticed during my death defying encounter with a plus size piece of plastic? People of all shapes and sizes were in the store. Some bigger than the mannequin, some smaller, and every single one deserves to see themselves represented and be catered for. Regardless of their fitness level. Whether they work out or not. Whatever fatphobic wankers want to say about who can and cannot wear a pair of fucking leggings. Every one of us is worthy of being represented, celebrated, and seen. This is a very small step in the right direction, and the reaction to it has shown exactly how necessary it is. • P.s. the mannequin is called Avril and she would like to remind you to drink some water and say something nice to yourself today. 💜💙💚🌈☀️ • [image description: Megan is standing in a Nike store next to a plus size mannequin in black sportswear. She's wearing a white crop top, pastel patterned trousers and pink trainers while smiling and leaning on the mannequin as if they're besties] #bodypositivity #bodypositive #bodyconfidence #justdoit #nike #allbodiesaregoodbodies #fitnessmodel #plusisequal #bodyposi
In her article, Gold discusses her qualms with promoting obesity, in general, and with the fat acceptance movement, in particular, citing two UK-based examples where body positivity was prioritized over the clear communication of medical information. That’s a discussion worth having—but it’s not one she deploys with any nuance. I agree that people deserve open access to clear, legitimate information regarding their health; it’s important for people to be able to clearly communicate with their primary care providers about obesity. But. Restricting access to medical information isn’t the same thing as displaying plus-size workout clothes on a plus-size mannequin. The two are hardly comparable.
I’m of the mind that life is better when people are equipped with enough access and information to make their own decisions about their own lives. Someone else’s health and fitness habits are their business, not mine (and certainly not Gold’s, either); so long as someone didn’t interfere with that person’s ability to make a decision, I don’t really see an issue.
(Oh, and I’d be remiss not to point out an obvious irony here: If someone is concerned with the “health” of those who are fat, they probably shouldn’t come for an exercise clothing brand giving plus-size people workout clothes options(?!?!).)
I obviously don’t have access to Nike’s marketing notes surrounding this decision, but the inclusion of a plus-size mannequin in a store display doesn’t seem like anything more than an effort to…show plus-size women what Nike workout clothes would look like on their bodies. This is, by all definitions, a pretty reasonable thing to do. Why not give your shoppers the chance to see what clothes might actually look like on them?
Whether or not you think this body type displayed is “healthy” is irrelevant and, frankly, not the point. This body type exists, is valid and worthy of respect—and wants to look cute in exercise garb, OK?!