FemFacts
25 Jun 2019

Big girls don’t run

After the launch of Nike’s plus-size inclusive apparel, a Telegraph journalist claimed the campaign promotes obesity. After all, obese women couldn’t possibly run.

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On June 5, the NikeTown store in London launched a new floor dedicated to women’s apparel. As stated by Nike in a press release:“To celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport, the space will not just celebrate local elite and grassroot athletes through visual content, but also show Nike plus size and para-sport mannequins for the first time on a retail space.”

Although the sportswear company had actually launched its first plus-size collections two years ago, as noted by People magazine, this was the first move to feature them in its flagship store. The brand introduced full-figured mannequins and products aimed at those who don’t fit the typical thin build, thus earning great praise by the general public. The approval, however, was not unanimous. According to its detractors, the campaign promotes obesity, rather than the actual workout gear.

WHAT’S THE CLAIM?

The Telegraph published an op-ed by opinion writer Tanya Gold whose take on the link between obesity and health problems, such as heart conditions, diabetes, and cancer sparked fierce controversy.

Slamming their marketing move, the journalist claimed that Nike was appealing to obese women and “selling them a dangerous lie.” According to Gold, in fact, Nike offers a condescending solution to obesity, skating over the fact that an obese woman could never run and would probably be ill.

Right from the beginning, Gold emphatically criticizes the mannequin's size, claiming that it can’t possibly be an athlete’s body:

"Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 -- a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.

She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?

(...)

Nike can be as accepting as it wishes of the obese female but your own body will not be so accommodating of your delusions. The facts are obvious. Stay that weight and you will be an old woman in your 50s. The obese Nike athlete is just another lie."

Moreover, Gold’s perspective reinforces the idea that athleticism and health equate with smaller dress sizes. She links fatness with failure and moral weakness:

"What is obesity? I would say, as a recovering addict myself, that it is most often -- but not always -- an addiction to sugars, and a response to sadness. And, as with all addictions, the only person who can save you is yourself. Recovery depends not on the collusion of multi-national companies or other addicts, but on personal responsibility and seeing the truth. And you do need to be saved."

Gold fiercely criticises the body-positivity movement, calling it a “fat-acceptance movement” and claiming that it works against women’s interests. She manages to downplay the huge issue of fatphobia in healthcare, writing:

“I once read a column arguing that fat people die young because doctors hate them. Really? Why don’t you lay down your pen and just stop eating sugar?”

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Gold’s statements caused quite a stir on social media, with beauty watchdog Estée Lauder leading the reaction.

 

Gold also received several responses from actual athletes and models with similar body types, including marathon runner Tegwen Tucker.

Many highlighted the hypocrisy of wanting fat people to lose weight, but complaining when plus size workout gear is advertised on the figures it was made for.

The journalist also reduces obesity to “a response to sadness”, thus perpetuating a frame of guilt and moral failure which does not tell the “obvious facts” about the illness.

According to the World Health Organization, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 because of various factors,  not only sugar -- or sadness -- related, surprisingly. There has been an increase in regards to both the intake of  “energy-dense foods that are high in fat” and to “the physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.” WHO also points out that “changes in dietary and physical activity patterns are often the result of environmental and societal changes associated with development and lack of supportive policies in sectors such as health, agriculture, transport, urban planning, environment, food processing, distribution, marketing, and education.”

When talking about obesity, therefore, it’s important to consider both dietary and socio-economic factors. For instance, it’s difficult for working-class people to find the time and money to juggle between multiple jobs and subscribing to any sport class or consulting a nutritionist.

Gold also misses the point about the whole campaign. Nike is a company promoting a product addressing customers of a larger body size, not a feminist academic writing an essay on body acceptance.

Conclusion

Gold’s op-ed is an example of biased reporting which spreads disinformation about fat bodies and their agency. Biased reporting is particularly dangerous when talking about obesity because it reinforces the stygma on fat bodies, thus perpetuating discrimination.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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