Woman Fired For Saying “Fat”

What Will you DefendReader 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/

Connie:

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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Published in: on April 6, 2016 at 11:52 am  Comments (18)  

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wish people would not knee-jerk react to things without first learning where the other person is coming from. Saves a whole lot of eating crow later on when seeking understanding is the first move in any situation where one might object to something said or written.

    District manager should have asked to meet with Ms. Connie to talk about the description. Then district manager would have come away with a whole new appreciation of Connie and opened her eyes regarding how one fat woman proudly uses the word fat as a descriptor. Food for thought.

  2. Connie is great! Thanks for this post Regan. AdditionElle should hire you as a consultant.

  3. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I shop at Addition Elle quite a bit and by that I mean I spend a lot of money. At 45, and after years of being called ‘Fat’ in its negative context, the word lost its power. It lost its power because I have changed and the people looking to tear me down exposed the soft underbelly of their insecurity. I desire only to live my life, in this body, and looking damn cute while doing it.

    • I haven’t been to Addition Elle in years, but I did buy one winter coat there (that wasn’t as good a sale as we thought). I normally buy at Penington’s, and sadly they are all Reitman’s. I’ve seen those old Reitmans’ commercials: “Reitman’s 1, Haut couture 0”. That seems to be what all their branches sell is trendy stuff. I can never find the same clothes twice, or find something bland and boring, it’s all snazy.

      Plus after our fiasco with Addition Elle, we boycotted it anyway, due to the whole schmele with their credit cards. I suppose this firing/re-hiring of Connie is just one more reason to boycott them. I wonder though, if this represents Reitman’s as a whole.

  4. There are very few places where anti discrimination laws include size discrimination. I don’t believe there are any cases that use the term fat discrimination. Discrimination laws are of mixed effectiveness in the courts. Federally a law has been on the books since the Kennedy administration outlawing unequal pay for women who do the same jobs as men.A recent case before the US Supreme Court in which a female supervisor made substantially less than a man with the same job was thrown out because of time limits ( I seem to recall). I doubt there is much that can be done by the woman who was fired for using the term fat.

    • You are thinking of Lily Ledbetter if I am not mistaken, and the problem is she filed suit when she found out, but the statute of limitations was already up. The Lily Ledbetter Act, which would have guaranteed equal pay for men and women never made it out of Congress. It’s been put up for vote more than once.

      • Actually the Lily Ledbetter act was the first act President Obama signed into law in 2009.

    • Lily Ledbetter act was signed into law in 2009. It was the first act signed by President Obama that year.

  5. It’s also, no matter how rife, not okay by me for bosses to mine Facebook and other social media for dirt on their employees.

  6. I just want to march into that store, with some pom poms, throw my hands in the air and shout, “Say it clear! Say it loud! I’m a Fat Chick! I am proud! Goooooooooo, FAT Chicks!”

    Where is it located?

    • Oh, wait. Canada. Not going to happen.

      Still, I’m glad they apologized, and really hope that woman changed her house-rules about “fat” being a swear word.

      I’m picturing someone dropping a heavy box on their toes, and saying, “Oh, FAT!” Ummm, that’s just not right.

  7. I worked at Addition Elle lo these many years ago, and the clause in the employment contract about “not embarrassing the company” was so incredibly vague and sweeping I specifically asked my manager if it was forbidding me from attending political rallies on my own time.

    • Wow.

  8. What if their attitude is driving away people who are bothered by the fact they don’t use the word ‘fat’?

    It could theoretically go both ways.

    • Exactly. Why would we want to shop at a store that is ashamed of our bodies and sizes?

      We really need to reclaim the word. Hey, it worked for “Yankee.” That used to be a slur against Americans, but we took it, and owned it, and now it has no power against us. We need to do the same with “fat.”

      • Note: the word “yankee” is still a slur in southern states. Usually pronounced “damn yankee.”

        • True, if it’s used to describe a Northerner. However, Yankee is also a generic term for any American, regardless of where in America they were born. That’s what I was thinking about when I wrote about that.

          It’s interesting, isn’t it, how a word can be coined as an insult, claimed by the people meant to be insulted, and then used again as an insult by half of those people it describes, to insultingly describe another half of those people, only to have it wind up encompassing a vastly larger number of people (with the western expansion) who embrace it with pride, yet still maintain that sub-group of “insulted” people. It’s weird.

          Language is like that. Words have the power that we give to them. No more, no less. We can, however, take that power away, or transform it into a different sort of power, if we try.

  9. I want to give Connie a hug. I want to give everyone a hug who has ever been stabbed in the heart by the word fat. That is why I use it as common parlance; if it is my word, you can’t use it to hurt or shame me. #takingitback.


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