Reader Erin let me know about this situation that recently happened at Addition Elle which is, according to their website:
[T]he style destination for fashion forward and fun-loving plus-size women. We offer the latest trends in women’s clothing, lingerie and denim with a high quality design and a superior fit. At Addition Elle we believe in “Fashion Democracy” and clothes that are designed to make our customers feel confident and beautiful inside and out.
Recently an employee named Connie filled in the employment section of Facebook with the job title “Sales Associate at Addition Elle. Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.”
She was then told that her district manager had seen the post and had instructed her manager to suspend all future shifts. She deleted the bio and was told by her manager to come back to work, and that “everything was fine.” She soon learned that was not the case:
…today, when I went in, I met with the district manager, who proceeded to tell me everything was not fine, and that I was fired because I had “embarrassed the company.” Because I had used the word “fat.” Because I had potentially lost some clientele who would be offended by the word. Because the word “fat” does not exist in the company’s vernacular, and because in her house, “fat” is a swear word.
Let’s start here. Companies are allowed to make brand decisions, including what language they use to talk about their clientele. Addition Elle is allowed to decide that they will only call their clients plus-size, or curvy, or fluffy, or whatever. They are allowed to say that in their company, fat is the Voldemort of adjectives – that which must not be named. What’s not ok, from my perspective, is to fail to make that clear and then fire an employee for using an adjective that accurately describes her and the company’s clientele.
Let’s take another step back and also realize that ultimately the problem here is fat phobia and sizeism – the fact that an adjective that accurately describes us (because fat people are fat whether we like/use the word or not) has become so negatively charged that a fat employee of a store that sells clothes designed to fit fat people was actually fired for using the word fat.
Oppressed groups are not a monolith -the only things that fat people have in common are a single physical characteristic, and the fact that we are stigmatized, harassed, bullied, and oppressed for that single physical characteristic. We don’t all react to that in the same way. Some people try to solve social stigma by changing themselves, some try to solve it by fighting social stigma and there are others who are all over that spectrum. Each of us gets to make that choice for ourselves.
Nobody has to embrace or identify with the word fat, or any other adjective, but I think it’s important that we respect each other’s choices. (I would rather be called literally anything than fluffy, but if that’s what you like to be called, I will call you that all day long.) Regardless, making fat people using the word fat a fire-able offense may not be the way to go.
After a fast and fierce backlash, Addition Elle apologized and said that they “reached out to Connie and looking into next steps with her and hope she’ll agree to stay on as part of our team.” (Connie’s Facebook posts as well as Addition Elle’s full apology are below)
I’m really happy that they are trying to fix it, because I think firing her was completely out of line. Again, if the company has a policy that employees can’t use the word fat to describe their fat customers, that is their right, but I think it would be a shame and I’m glad that they’ve embraced a word that many of us prefer!
Here are Connie’s Facebook posts about the situation (I highly recommend reading them,) and the company’s apology (you can click to make the pictures larger and/or they are transcribed below.)
If you want to thank Addition Elle, you can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/additionelle/
I’m feeling angry and disheartened as I write this today.
The other day, I was called by my former manager at ADDITION ELLE in the employment section of Facebook, I had written my job title: Sales Associate at Addition Elle. Underneath, in the short biography, I wrote “Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.”
According to my boss, this was not okay. My district manager had found the posting on Facebook, and had instructed my manager to suspend my shifts until further notice. I immediately deleted the post, and called it a day. I called my manager to let her know that the biography had been deleted, and she told me to come in for my shift. I was told the matter was settled, and everything was fine.
Except it wasn’t. Because today, when I went in, I met with the district manager, who proceeded to tell me everything was not fine, and that I was fired because I had “embarrassed the company.” Because I had used the word “fat.” Because I had potentially lost some clientele who would be offended by the word. Because the word “fat” does not exist in the company’s vernacular, and because in her house, “fat” is a swear word.
Friends, in case you have failed to notice, I am fat. I have been fat my entire life. I have lived my entire life in a world that does not embrace bodies like mine. I am aware of the statistically sound ways in which fat people are discriminated against. For example, did you know that 54% of doctors surveyed in the National Health Survey in the UK in 2012 said they would be okay with not providing a fat person healthcare? Did you also know that this is a direct violation of the Hippocratic oath? (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/apr/28/doctors-treatment-denials-smokers-obese)
Because I continue to live in a world that still struggles to accept bodies like mine, I cherish the few spaces that carve out a place for women like me. Reitmans Inc., the company for which Addition Elle is a subsidiary, practically owns the market in plus-sized fashion in Canada, its other stores including Pennington’s, which carries sizes up to 6X. Addition Elle itself has been known for creating fashions that embrace every type of style, and encourage women of all sizes to express themselves. I was so excited to be a part of that.
If a company like Reitmans Inc. will fire someone for using the word “fat” to describe my place in their company, what does that say about the company? For me, it tells me that, despite the leaps and bounds of the body positivity movement, internalized hate and stigma against fat bodies still runs rampant. This is one less store I can shop at, not because their clothes don’t fit me, but because what they don’t stand for doesn’t.
I have spent years hating the way I look. The word fat used to cut me like a knife — until one day, I looked in the mirror, and accepted that it doesn’t matter how healthy I am eating, or how much time I spend in the gym. I’m fat. I’ll always have fat on my body, and that will never change. And I’m okay with that. I am okay with being fat. I’m okay with not hiding behind euphemisms like curvy or shapely. I refuse to let a three-letter word define me.
I embody may identities. I’m a daughter, a sister, a student, a Hufflepuff – you get the drift. But in a world where enen the places that are supposed to be made for bodies like mine continue to silence and demean those of us who love ourselves, the only identity that matters is the one that manifests itself as a number on a scale.
#IAmFat, and that’s okay.
Addition Elle Apology:
Dear Facebook Friends,
This is an unusual post for our wall. However, an unfortunate situation took place involving our brand today that we must acknowledge. One of our employees from the Edmonton area was let go because she used the word “fat” on Facebook in reference to our customers.
We took the word “fat” out of its context and were afraid that it might offend our customers and employees. However, we believe that anyone should use whatever words they are comfortable with when describing themselves and whatever makes them feel empowered.
We recognize that letting her go was a mistake and have apologized to our employee for any hurt this may have caused her.
We stand for body positivity in all its forms.
We’ve reached out to Connie and looking into next steps with her and hope she’ll agree to stay on as part of our team.
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